Use Social Media and Email to Get More Customers and Keep Them Coming Back

Apathy kills more customers than bad service and poor quality products combined. Loyalty is inspired when people are interested, engaged and valued. The top priority of every business that wants long-term growth and profitability is acquiring customers and keeping them coming back. Focusing on one without the other is a recipe for disaster.

Apathy kills more customers than bad service and poor quality products combined. Loyalty is inspired when people are interested, engaged and valued. The top priority of every business that wants long-term growth and profitability is acquiring customers and keeping them coming back. Focusing on one without the other is a recipe for disaster.

Customer acquisition without retention is expensive. Costs typically run $25 to $75 per customer depending on the industry and competition. Three or more orders are required to break even. Profitability and growth come when people continue to buy year after year. Companies that excel in acquiring customers but don’t retain them will eventually crumble under the high costs.

Retention without acquisition is equally dangerous. Natural attrition will eventually leave the company without customers. When people complete their buying lifespan, they leave. Replacements are vital to keep the company moving forward. Companies without a stable of new customers coming in on a regular basis are dying. It is only a matter of time until operating costs exceeds revenue.

Apple is a good example of a company that has a good balance between acquisition and retention. The company keeps people coming back even when the products offer less performance than those from competitors. Loyalty remains high even after “antennagate” in 2010 because people are so emotionally invested in Apple’s culture leaving is harder than staying. Any company without a customer cult-like obsession for its products would have suffered irreparable damage from a similar challenge.

What if your company isn’t Apple and has little hope of creating an obsessive fan base? How do you continuously acquire customers and keep them coming back? Creating an integrated strategy that uses the best features of individual channels to connect with people and provide an engaging experience is the key to your success. Start by combining social activity with email campaigns and expand from there. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Let people know that you value their business. Neglect is one of two components that make it easy for competitors to snag your customers. Use custom emails to keep the connection between customer and company strong. People know the difference between “personalized” (insert name here) and “personal” (specific messages about orders or challenges). The same technology that creates personalized messages can create personal ones. Make the effort to send custom emails that invite a two-way conversation on a regular basis. Most people won’t respond, but you will still plant a seed that can grow into loyalty.
  • Keep things interesting. Boredom is the second component that opens the door for competitors to steal your customers’ attention with flashy ads, deep discounts, and the promise of something new. Shake things up by injecting new templates in your email campaigns and offering fun activities on your social platforms. After receiving the same format multiple times and repeatedly seeing the same types of posts, people miss the message because their mind tricks them into thinking they’ve seen it before. Avoid this by injecting fresh looks and participation opportunities.
  • Have a plan that moves people from participating in social communities to subscribing to your emails and vice versa. An email sign-up page on Facebook and links to your social platforms at the bottom of emails is not a plan. You need specific calls-to-action that include good reasons for people to move between channels. The process needs to be easy and fun. The more fun you make it, the more likely they will respond.
  • Reward people. Use great offers to get people to convert from prospect to customer. Provide even better benefits for long-term loyalty. Create a special club for people to join when they’ve placed their fifth order or reached a sales benchmark to encourage them to keep coming back. Include membership in private groups on social platforms and exclusive email messages. Let the people who provide the most benefits to your company receive the best offers first.

Is Your Customer Service Killing Customer Loyalty?

As marketers, we spend a lot of time, money, energy and brain power designing and building programs that will drive inquiries, close sales or increase brand engagement. And once a sale is secured, we move into loyalty mode—lovingly nurturing that customer to buy more and buy more often in order to derive a long term revenue stream and ROI for the marketing investment. … So what the hell is wrong with the customer service folks?

As marketers, we spend a lot of time, money, energy and brain power designing and building programs that will drive inquiries, close sales or increase brand engagement.

And once a sale is secured, we move into loyalty mode, lovingly nurturing that customer to buy more and buy more often in order to derive a long term revenue stream and ROI for the marketing investment.

So what the hell is wrong with the customer service folks?

Didn’t they get the memo that says, “Our customers are those people who make sure you get your paycheck. So let’s treat them with respect, concern and understanding. Because if we do, they’ll keep buying from us again, and again and again.”?

Apparently, the customer service folks at Dell never got the memo—and shame on them, because they’ve now lost my business for life.

Granted, I run a smaller agency and my lack of future purchases will not put Dell out of business. But I think there’s a big lesson that many companies can learn from my experience, and that’s to take a moment to really examine what goes on inside these departments.

For the record, we’ve been purchasing Dell products for well over 10 years now. Laptops, towers, printers, screens … you name it. My IT guy likes the ease of ordering online and the ability to carefully customize each of our purchases for the user.

So when we recently did a little expansion by hiring a new employee, we turned once again to Dell for a new desktop PC. Little did we know it would be the last transaction we’d ever make with them—and all because of how we were treated when something went wrong with the order. Here’s a quick factual summary:

  • Friday, Aug. 24: Order placed online.
  • Monday, Aug. 27: Order ships.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 4: According to the FedEx tracking number, the order was delivered and signed for—unfortunately, FedEx delivered it to the wrong company at the wrong address!
  • Thursday, Sept. 6: FedEx reroutes package to us. It arrives and appears to have been opened and resealed. Since this is a PC, I don’t want an opened box, so we try to refuse the delivery. FedEx persists and requires us to contact their customer service to arrange a return to sender.
  • Monday, Sept 10: FedEx picks up tower.
  • Monday, Sept 10: Alert Dell; they promise to “expedite” a replacement order.
  • Friday, Sept 14: Dell informs us the PC is still “being built.”

I must interrupt the facts to say “Wha–?” When we ordered the first time, it took them 2 days to build it. But when we ordered our replacement, it’s now taking more than 5 days to build the same computer? It only gets better …

  • Monday, Sept. 17: Dells says, “Still building.”

What on earth are they building for us? We try to reach a “customer care” rep. (BTW, I HATE that term. I wish organizations would call a spade a spade— it’s plain old customer service. Or perhaps since “service” doesn’t seem to be part of the equation, that’s why they changed it. So they “care” but they cannot “service”?)

Net-net, phone numbers we are provided don’t work. (Ring, ring, ring… apparently Dell hasn’t heard of that new-fangled technology called voicemail.) Emails go unanswered, emails to the supervisor bounce back as “out of the office.” Did I mention my new employee is twiddling thumbs doing idle work as she can only get so much done on her smart phone?

  • Tuesday, Sept. 18: Dell emails us saying the order will now be “escalated” and we’ll be kept aware of the status.

Okay Dell. It’s been 25 days since I placed my order and there is still no confirmed delivery date is sight. I give up. I cancel the order and buy from a local retailer.

No apologies from Dell to try and retain my business. No offers on a future purchase. Nothing. Nada. Apparently Dell’s customer care folks forgot that those marketing millions spent on driving in leads, nurturing relationships and transacting sales have all been an investment in their job security.

Not only did Dell blow it, but I won’t even attempt to make another purchase from them—ever.

As a customer, I get infuriated just thinking about this incident. As a marketer, I cringe.

If you are responsible for marketing in your organization, do you spend any time at all investigating what goes on in “customer care”? You should—because it may be the reason you’re not making your marketing and sales goals.

Email to Repair Broken Customer Relationships—What J.C. Penney Got Wrong

Email is one of the more personal forms of electronic communication. Notes from friends and family are co-mingled with marketing messages. This makes it an excellent vehicle for repairing broken relationships. When done well, email apology letters drive sales in addition to mending relationships, but can they save a company from a death spiral? The management team at J.C. Penney is hoping that the recent note from CEO Ron Johnson will reverse (or at least slow down) the sales free fall for the last two quarters.

Email is one of the more personal forms of electronic communication. Notes from friends and family are co-mingled with marketing messages. This makes it an excellent vehicle for repairing broken relationships.

When done well, an email apology letter drives sales in addition to mending relationships. A few years ago, a client had a system failure that resulted in delayed shipments of holiday orders. An email was sent to every customer who had placed an order that season (even the ones who had already received their orders.) The message explained what caused the problem, apologized for any inconvenience, promised to expedite shipments of remaining orders, and offered a gift certificate for future orders.

The immediate response was so positive, the President quipped, “We should plan a problem once a quarter so we can apologize!” The revenue from the apology letter more than covered the expedited shipping. Furthermore, the relationship between customer and company became stronger. The people who received the letter consistently outperformed their counterparts who didn’t get one in both sales and lifespan.

Personal letters help salvage relationships but can they save a company from a death spiral? The management team at J.C. Penney is hoping that the recent note from CEO Ron Johnson will reverse (or at least slow down) the sales free fall for the last two quarters. In May, the first quarter results revealed a 20.1 percent drop in revenue because shoppers didn’t like the new pricing and marketing strategy. Second quarter was worse with another revenue drop of almost 23 percent. Traffic was down 12 percent.

When things are going south at this rate, quick action is required. Johnson admitted to pricing and marketing mistakes when speaking with investors, but his letter to customers is more like an introduction than an “Oops! We goofed.” The letter reads:

Dear valued customer,

You’ve probably heard about recent changes at jcpenney. I’m honored to
say that I’m one of them.

I’m Ron Johnson, and I came here because I have a lifelong passion for
retailing—and jcpenney has been one of America’s favorite stores for
over a hundred years. My goal is to make jcpenney your favorite place
to shop.

I’ve asked our team to innovate in many ways—to help you look and live
better—and to make shopping more enjoyable.

While you will see many changes, you can rest assured that we’ll never
lose sight of our founder’s values. When James Cash Penney built his
first retail stores over a century ago, he called them “The Golden
Rule,” because treating customers with respect was his highest
priority.

One of Mr. Penney’s guiding principles was offering low prices every
day—instead of running a series of “special sales.” We’re honoring Mr.
Penney by returning to his pricing policy, so you’ll find great prices
every time you visit.

We’ve also made it easier to return items, we’re bringing in more
great brands, adding excitement to our presentation, offering free
back-to-school haircuts for kids, and much more.

Basically, we’re putting you and your family first, trying to give you
new reasons to smile every time you visit a jcpenney store.

You’ll see many innovations in the coming months, and I’ll keep you
informed in a series of letters like this. I hope you’ll let me know
how we’re doing, and share any ideas that could help us do better.
Just click the link below to send me a note.

On behalf of the jcpenney team, thank you for shopping with us.

Ron

I’d like to hear from you.
View email with images.

*Please be advised that any information disclosed or submitted will
become jcp property and may be used in public communications.”

The timing of this letter is off. It should have been sent prior to the pricing changes. Now is the time for J.C. Penney to be open about the issues and invite people to share thoughts without the threat that they “may be used in public communications.”

Email messages designed to repair relationships are different from marketing emails. They have to be simple and personal. The J.C. Penney email is designed to look like a letter from the CEO, as you can see in the first picture in the media player at right.

Unfortunately, it looks like the second picture in the media player when it lands in the inbox. The letter is an image instead of text. It isn’t very inviting to a loyal customer much less an unhappy one.

Do’s and don’ts for creating personal relationship mending messages:

  • Do personalize the name. “Dear valued customer” says “I don’t know who you are.” The individual who shared this email with me has been a loyal catalog shopper and had a J. C. Penney credit card. They should be on a first name basis.
  • Don’t use a ho-hum subject. You have to catch people’s attention in a flash. “A letter from our CEO” doesn’t do it. Wouldn’t “Our CEO wants your advice” be better?
  • Do identify the problem and take responsibility for it. “Oops! We goofed!” followed with an explanation and sincere apology is the first step to mending the relationship. If the recipient doesn’t feel your sincerity, additional damage is done.
  • Don’t limit responses by qualifying. Mr. Johnson asks for feedback and then states that the information shared may be used in public communications. Some apology emails offer a discount based on a specific order size. Relationship mending emails have to do two things: Take responsibility and offer some form of restitution. A discount is a promotion. Basing it on a dollar amount is adding insult to injury.
  • Do use text-only emails. A picture paints a thousand words and most of them send marketing signals and awaken spaminators. The purpose of relationship building emails is to restore the relationship. This won’t happen if the email goes to spam or looks like a bunch of boxes with red X’s.
  • Don’t ever forget that relationships with customers are a privilege not a right. When you are truly grateful for the opportunity to serve your customers, it resonates in your messages. Make sure that your marketing team (including the copywriter) has the right perspective when creating messages.

The Data Show: #NBCFail, or What Happens When an Industry Faces Digital Disruption

Like it or not, NBC must accept the fact that its monopoly on broadcast content has been disrupted by the emergence of new technologies, most notably the Internet and the DVR. Instead of creating a business model that leverages and monetizes on this new reality, they’ve instead tried to ram an old business model down the throats of consumers across the U.S., essentially missing the forest for the trees. As a result, they’ve pissed off millions of people, devaluing their brand in the process.

Like most Americans, I’ve spent a lot of time watching the Olympics during the past couple weeks. Probably way more than I should. To be totally honest, I haven’t been the biggest fan of NBC’s coverage, and on this I’m definitely not alone. Look, for example, at the #NBCFail Twitter campaign that erupted online during the past couple weeks. Led mostly by bloggers and new media pundits, the campaign has relentlessly lambasted NBC for its poor coverage.

A major criticism by the #NBCFail folks has centered on topics ranging from showing only American competitors, to endless and annoying human interest stories, from snarky banter with condescending hosts, to strangely jingoistic flag-waving commentary. I must say I agree that it’s generally been an unpleasant experience. But, beyond poor coverage itself, NBC has also been taking a ton of flack for its new media “strategy”—if you can call it that—that includes no live streaming content on the Web. They have an App with some live coverage, but it’s only available to those with an active paid cable subscription that includes NBC already.

Now of course many in the industry have rushed to NBC’s defense. In his recent article in Ad AgeThe Truth About #NBCFail,” Simon Dumenco states quite correctly that “NBC is not a charity.” He then goes on to explain that NBC paid about $1.2 billion for the rights to broadcast the games. That’s a lot of greenbacks. Dumenco’s point is that because NBC is not listed as a 501c3 (non-profit) organization, it has every right to run in the Olympics in a manner it sees fit in order to recoup and hopefully make a profit on its hefty investment. Fair enough.

While on one hand I tend to agree with some of the points made by Dumenco and other critics of #NBCFail, on the other I really do feel that NBC has completely bungled its new media strategy. Like it or not, NBC must accept the fact that its monopoly on broadcast content has been disrupted by the emergence of new technologies, most notably the Internet and the DVR. Instead of creating a business model that leverages and monetizes on this new reality, they’ve instead tried to ram an old business model down the throats of consumers across the U.S., essentially missing the forest for the trees. As a result, they’ve pissed off millions of people, devaluing their brand in the process.

This is eerily reminiscent of what happened to the recording industry a little more than a decade ago. Remember Tower Records? Sam Goody? Virgin Megastores? All gone. And I could continue and list off dozens. Well, guess what happened? The world changed and the recording industry lost its monopoly on distribution of its primary product. What was their master plan? Suing Napster. And all that accomplished was putting off the inevitable by a couple years at most. Today, all the old players are gone and iTunes is the world’s largest retailer of music worldwide, and has been since 2009. The craziest part is that it was only launched by Apple in 2001. It happened so fast.

Well, why was Apple, a company with no experience selling music, able to swoop in and within a few years totally dominate a legacy industry, displacing existing firms? Two words: Disruption and Innovation. Disruption caused by the emergence of new technology—namely, the Internet as a means of Distribution—enabling firms with the best new ideas to unleash Innovation on an industry ripe for transformation.

NBC and the other legacy broadcast networks are now facing similar dilemma. With the emergence of the Internet as a viable distribution channel for broadcast media, their monopoly is over. Don’t like NBC’s coverage? Well, all you need to do is locate a proxy and you can watch awesome uninterrupted streaming coverage on BBC, or China’s national network CCTV, among many others. And as if this ignominy weren’t enough, Digital Video Recording (DVR) boxes in most homes mean that almost no one is watching commercials anymore. Sure, NBC can crow about its impressive ratings while it blacks out live coverage and force millions of people to watch their broadcast in primetime. But how many of these people are tape-delaying coverage by an hour and skipping the ads? Way more than they want the advertisers to think.

What this all means is that the landscape has radically changed for the networks, though they don’t seem to realize it. How long is it before most advertisers realize that the 30-second commercial is functionally obsolete? My guess is it can’t be too long. And when they do, guess what will happen? No more 30-second ads. That will mean a HUGE revenue stream dries up for the networks as the advertisers pull their campaigns en masse. In my estimation, because the networks seem completely unprepared, this shock will be even more devastating than the loss of classified ad revenues was for newspapers.

The only solution for networks, of course, is instead of fighting change and pissing off your customers with inane blackouts and insulting restrictions that don’t work, to be the harbinger of transformation and change instead of the victim. Can they do it? It’s certainly possible. Take, for example, this past year’s absolutely brilliant Final 4 strategy by CBS/NCAA. While the tournament was broadcast on regular TV by CBS without blackouts or restrictions, there was also an amazing App you could buy that offered uninterrupted access to all the games. Sure the App needed to be purchased—but the user experience was so awesome I sure didn’t mind ponying up a few bucks to install it on my iPad.

Experience after experience has shown in an effort to prevent cannibalization of their existing business model, legacy firms miss the forest for the trees and fail to innovate in time, allowing new competitors to swoop in and change the rules of the game for them. By that time, of course, it’s way too late and they’re toast. Ask Kodak about digital photography. Bet they now wish they had started the transformation to digital a few years earlier, don’t they? Or ask Borders about eBooks? I could go on and on …

So, do you think the networks will figure it out? Let me know in your comments.

—Rio

Left Hand? I’d Like to Introduce Right Hand

What happened to good, old fashioned, “please” and “thank you”? As a customer, it’s nice to be thanked for my business, or appreciated for my subscription to a service. It makes me feel part of the brand and valued for my investment. But as a cold prospect, it’s even more important since making a good impression should always be part of the process. So why is it missing from so many marketing communications programs?

What happened to good, old fashioned, “please” and “thank you”?

As a customer, it’s nice to be thanked for my business, or appreciated for my subscription to a service. It makes me feel part of the brand and valued for my investment. But as a cold prospect, it’s even more important since making a good impression should always be part of the process. So why is it missing from so many marketing communications programs?

After attending a B-to-B webinar recently, I fully expected to receive a follow-up email thanking me for my attendance, and a continued nurturing of me along their sales cycle: A request for a meeting, an invitation to participate in a live demo, or even a link to a case study or two that were geared to my industry. Instead, I got an email that sounded as if they were talking to a cold prospect.

Perhaps the marketing manager failed to merge/purge the webinar registration/attendee list against their cold prospecting list (tsk, tsk, tsk). But I suspect this business didn’t even think to conduct a merge/purge. Why?

Because, like most mid-to-large B-to-B organizations, one marketing manager is responsible for acquisition and someone else is responsible for sales support—and it seems that neither of them talk to each other … EVER.

If this company maintains a database, I should be flagged as “responded” AND “attended an event” so the sales team can take over the management of this “lead.” I’ve met with many, many organizations that don’t have a lead database (or, even worse, they have multiple databases because no one is happy with the company solution, or the solution is too hard to manage/maintain). Worse still, they may have a customer database, but it’s not well maintained, or is too difficult to access/use. So when it comes time to upsell or cross-sell a product, they don’t even know who their customers are, or how to talk to them in a meaningful way.

Thus we circle back to my dilemma. How can you thank me for attending an event and start to sell me on your product/solution, if you don’t know that I attended in the first place?

As marketers, we’re all busy with our heads down, trying to get work out the door. I get it. But at some point, you have to stop all the day-to-day madness and realize that you’re just putting off the inevitable. Insist on investing in a proper marketing database and a database manager to help your company communicate with more intelligence and insight. In turn, that will lead to your ability to target any particular audience and craft smarter, more relevant marketing messages, which will, in turn, lead to better results. I guarantee it.

Oh, and you’re welcome.

CEM: Getting Acquainted With Your Customers

You’ve probably heard of CRM, right? CRM is old hat. An acronym standing for Customer Relationship Management, the goal of any CRM program is to manage a company’s interactions with prospects and customers, while reducing the costs and building customer lifetime value. Now how about CRM’s twin sister, CEM? Probably not.

You’ve probably heard of CRM, right? CRM is old hat. An acronym standing for Customer Relationship Management, the goal of any CRM program is to manage a company’s interactions with prospects and customers, while reducing the costs and building customer lifetime value.

Now how about CRM’s twin sister, CEM? Probably not. Unknown to many, CEM is an acronym that stands for Customer Experience Management. As a side note, Customer Experience is sometimes also referred to as CX. Now if you’re a marketer, regardless of what you decide to call it, Customer Experience Management is a discipline you need to get acquainted with.

In general, CRM programs tend place a heavy emphasis on marketing and communications. After all, establishing touchpoints with customers or potential customers at crucial points in the customer journey is incredibly important to achieve desired behavioral outcomes. Fair enough.

In many ways, CRM programs tend to be one-dimensional in nature, focusing on how the firm makes decisions as regards place, product, price and promotion, with little emphasis on customer needs or desires. It shouldn’t be too surprising then to learn that many CRM programs fail because they use an approach that—while brilliant on paper—is misaligned to actual customer wants, needs or expectations.

This is where CEM steps in. You see, it turns out that to succeed in today’s challenging multichannel and mobile/social environment, firms need to expand their scope of their CRM initiatives to create a program that aims to focus like a laser on customer needs, both rational and emotional, and drive toward expected outcomes and KPIs.

At a baseline, the goal of any CEM program is ostensibly to move customers from satisfied to loyal and then from loyal to advocate by taking a holistic view of the totality of their experiences—regardless of place, time or channel.

This is important because, let’s face it, at the end of the day customer perception is built through interactions across multiple events—most usually through multiple channels. As such, successful CEM programs all feature the capability to manage and track engagement where they actually take place—on the Web, on a mobile device, when a customer speaks with a customer service rep or deals with an automated switchboard on an IVR. It all adds up.

Depending on the type of business, customer engagement channels might include contact the Web (main website), mobile (mobile website or app), brick-and-mortar stores and call centers, while touchpoints may include phone (call center, IVR or in-house customer service team), Social Media, email, self-service Website (traditional or mobile) or in-person. Lifecycle engagement includes ordering, fulfillment, billing and support.

But that’s not all—CEM programs also take into account when engagements take place in relation to the customer’s (or buyer’s) journey. An initial conversation between a sales rep and a new customer would be tracked and discerned, for example, from an inquiry on the Web. And this has real-world repercussions. A customer service inquiry by a high-value customer, for example, would be handled differently than in initial inquiry by a prospect on a Web form.

As is the case with most disciplines, CEM programs have evolved over time. This is a good thing. If you look at the chart, you’ll observe that I’ve broken down CEM into its three dimensions: Engagement Channels, Engagement Touchpoints and Engagement Lifecycle.

You’ll notice that I’ve bolded four of them in red. I’ve done so because these are recent additions to the CEM value system.

Okay, I know I could go on more, but I’m running out of room for this post. Got any questions or feedback? Please let me know in your comments.

Thanks,

Rio

No More Menial Jobs and 2 Other Steps to Customer Experience Transformation

As a marketing consultant, I read great articles about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) every day on the job. Most of them focus on the sales and marketing aspects of CRM … what strategies to employ, tools to use, messages to send out and so on. But let’s not forget that world-class CRM programs also include awesome customer service, essentially creating a Total Customer Experience that fosters long-term, profitable relationships with customers.

As a marketing consultant, I read great articles about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) every day on the job. Most of them focus on the sales and marketing aspects of CRM … what strategies to employ, tools to use, messages to send out and so on. But let’s not forget that world-class CRM programs also include awesome customer service, essentially creating a Total Customer Experience that fosters long-term, profitable relationships with customers.

For many companies, however, the customer service element in CRM is often an afterthought. Banished to a windowless office in the bowels of the company, customer service teams are quite literally out of sight, out of mind. Much of the time, this function is even outsourced entirely. But I have a sneaking suspicion things are going to change big time in coming years, and here’s why.

It’s no secret that companies are now dealing with super-informed, savvy and influential end-users who leverage Social Media and the vast research resources of Web 2.0 to make their purchase decisions. Let’s call this new end-user ‘Customer 2.0.’ In this new paradigm, the balance of power is shifting away from the sales and marketing teams, as firms are discovering that Customer 2.0s are by and large unresponsive to traditional sales and marketing tactics.

This means that customer service is, quite literally, becoming the first and only line of defense. If customer service is poor, it follows that the overall Customer Experience should be lousy, too. Given these facts, it shouldn’t be too controversial to suggest that in the business world of tomorrow, excellent customer service will not only the hallmark of a successful firm, but a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) by which success is measured.

Providing top-notch customer service necessitates transforming the way a firm does business and engages with its clients—aligning it to a model where customer service plays a central role in the firm’s operations. Welcome to the world of Customer Experience Transformation.

For customer service, I define Customer Experience Transformation in three broad swathes:

1. PersonnelIt’s time to view customer service as a profit center, not a cost center.

Say goodbye to the days in which customer service is viewed as a cost center, staffed with bottom-of-the barrel employees who can easily be replaced. To the contrary, customer-focused firms hire smart, savvy and highly motivated customer service representatives, knowing full well that these valuable employees are the firm’s principal ambassadors to the outside world.

I recently read an excellent article in Ad Age titled “Are You Ready for a World Without Menial Jobs?” The crux of the article is that instead of cutting costs, the world’s most successful retailers are actually investing heavily and spending for more than their rivals when it comes to recruiting, training and retaining customer service staff. Turns out, this steep up-front investment ends up paying off in spades down the road, in the form of higher sales and increased profitability.

2. SystemsWorld-class service needs world-class infrastructure supporting it.

Truth be told, customer support is only as good as the systems a firm has in place to support its operations. In the world of Customer 2.0, a Web presence acts as a primary point of engagement with customers. In that vein, it’s crucial to provide customers a Web presence that is not only clean, clutter-free and easy-to-navigate, but also—especially when it comes to providing personal or account info—personalized and secure. Furthermore, a website must be also optimized for ALL major Web browsers and operating systems, including—and especially—mobile.

In the age of Social Media, no firm that’s serious about providing customer service can avoid having a social media strategy. Without getting into a nuanced approach required for firm-wide Social Media engagement, as regards customer service, Social Media can and should be used to listen to, engage with and monitor a company’s customer base. There are some great SCRM (SocialCRM) and Social Media monitoring tools out there. Supported by savvy staff, they can be used to ensure customers are being engaged with quickly and effectively.

Internally facing, there are myriad important questions to ask, as well. Where are customer data stored, and how often is this database updated? How often are these data being synced with information from outlying systems, including IVRs, marketing tools, etc? What CRM solution is being used, and are best-practices being followed? If not, good luck tracking KPIs.

3. DNAChange the way you act, and you’ll change the way you’re perceived.

In many ways, corporate DNA is the most important element in Customer Experience Transformation. Corporate DNA is synonymous with corporate culture, which permeates the way in which an organization engages with its customers. For many companies—especially those in legacy industries—becoming customer-focused requires a major pivot.

To illustrate this point, let’s focus on the healthcare industry. Because in the US, health insurance is almost always procured by the employer, the primary point of engagement with end-users is usually when they call up to see why claims haven’t been paid. Now if you’ve never had healthcare in the US, you know this is most definitely not a pleasant experience. No wonder people don’t care for healthcare companies, in general.

Now, of course, denying and approving claims is far from the only thing that healthcare companies do. But, as a customer, you’d never know it. What this implies is an industry ripe for transformation.

If a healthcare company wants to be regarded as a healthcare company—as opposed to a health insurance company—then why not start by acting like one? Better yet, act like a health partner, providing customers with practical healthy lifestyle tips and ideas that will improve their health and, presumably, lead to fewer claims down the road.

Better yet, find out more about customers and send out highly personalized healthcare information they can use in their daily lives. Or, taking it a step farther, how about using that information to create fun contests and social media engagements customers can participate in, ‘gamifying’ the user experience.

In this model, although the business model has not changed, the overall customer experience has been transformed, resulting in a more positive brand perception, higher lifetime value and, of course, increased profitability.

Is your organization creating an awesome customer experience? If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in your comments.

Thanks,

—Rio

Be the Wave—Or ‘The New Marketers’ Manifesto’

Don’t ride the wave, be the wave. A friend of mine named Devin, who works as a management consultant, recently taught me this phrase. I simply love it. I interpret it to mean: Make your destiny; don’t succumb to it. For marketers, I think this phrase has incredible relevance in today’s rapidly changing landscape.

Don’t ride the wave; be the wave. A friend of mine named Devin, who works as a management consultant, recently taught me this phrase. I simply love it. I interpret it to mean: Make your destiny; don’t succumb to it.

For marketers, I think this phrase has incredible relevance in today’s rapidly changing landscape. It’s no secret that the ground is quite literally shifting beneath our feet as a radical transformation takes place in the way people interact with companies, and marketers are being forced to pivot in a brave new world that is largely unknown.

What’s happened is the Buyer’s Journey has been turned on its head. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, I described it in a recent post. Buyer’s Journey refers to the process prospects go through as they make their decisions on which companies to do business with or buy products from. It’s is a complex evolution that spans the entire progression, beginning with identification of the underlying need, and ending with product selection.

Not long ago, Buyers were relatively uninformed, and the Buyer’s Journey was controlled lock-stock-and-barrel by the marketer. To be successful, marketers essentially needed to try out different approaches, through trial and error, and see what worked. Kind of like throwing stuff at the proverbial wall to see what stuck. Once you found a successful formula, all you needed to do was repeat it again and again.

Companies simply told their customers what they should buy and what they needed to know to buy it. Not surprisingly, firms didn’t really know too much about their customers. They didn’t need to. All they needed to know was what worked from a utilitarian point of view, not why it worked.

Recent technological advances have completely altered the landscape—evolving it to a state that would have been unrecognizable a mere dozen or so years ago. For one, today’s marketer confronts a highly sophisticated, engaged and informed consumer who is comfortable with the digital landscape, and familiar with the latest gadgets and tools. Native to the Web and connected to multiple Social Media networks via the latest devices, today’s buyer may know as much about a marketer’s products as the marketer’s sales or marketing teams. For most marketers, this is a truly frightening concept.

Now add to the mix that many marketers are quickly discovering, to their great consternation, that the sale is often won or lost before the relationship even begins—as greater numbers of buyers educate themselves using the vast resources available on the Web, which include customer reviews , referrals from peers on Social Media, and so on. The Buyer’s Journey of yesteryear has been turned on its head.

This brave new world calls for a brave new approach—one that not only leverages the latest advances in technology, but more importantly focuses on the central narrative of the new way brands engage with their customers and prospects. No, having a slick website and a cursory presence on social media isn’t enough. Marketers need to use technology to transform how they do business.

Today’s firms not only need to get to really know who their customers are, but where they go, what they do, and what affinities they share; they also need to engage them where they’re comfortable, which is increasingly on their mobile devices and in the vast and constantly changing Social Media universe. I know it sounds daunting, but the good news is that marketers can learn to leverage the same technologies that created such change in the first place.

Let’s take a quick look at mobile. Let’s say, for example, I’m in Chicago on business, it’s dinnertime and I’m hungry. I spot a steakhouse across the street from my hotel. But because I’ve never been there, I pick up my iPhone and open up the Yelp App, where I pull up the listing to see what others have to say. Turns out that someone went there last week and had a really, really bad experience … and wrote a review trashing the place. And it’s the only review. Well, looks like I’m not going there tonight.

But fortunately it’s a double-edged sword. Let’s imagine instead that the owner had employed a strategy to drive customers online, specifically to give a review on Yelp. This strategy could involve placing a QR Code on the menu, along with a special offer for a free appetizer for all who give a review—or maybe a deal with Foursquare, Groupon, ScoutMob … or one of many mobile companies offering merchants tools to leverage this exciting new channel. Now instead of seeing just the bad review, I would see many good ones from happy customers.

And this is but one example of many. Another is the best-practice use of QR Codes for Augmented Reality by Best Buy and other electronic retailers. Armed with a smartphone, you can now scan QR Codes affixed to the in-store displays for products you’re interested in. You can obtain detailed product specs, warranty information … even detailed product reviews. Plus, by connecting to social media, it’s even possible to see what friends or followers have to say.

Okay, looks like I’m running out of space. But I guess the main message is: Embrace technology and use it to control your own destiny—don’t let it control you. And the good news is we can take this ‘philosophy’ and apply it to really any type of firm. Take a close look at your company and see how technology can be used to change the way you do business.

Instead of ducking your head in the sand, use new tools—whatever they may be—to give your customers new and improved ways to engage with your company and its products. Delight them. In the end, firms that do so will enjoy great success in coming months and years. Those that don’t … well, they might not be around. Be the Wave.

Get Your PCRM On!

Never heard of PCRM? Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist—not yet, anyway. But it should. For those who are unfamiliar with Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, it describes a strategy for managing a company’s interactions with customers and prospects. The key to any CRM program is that interactions are with your customers and prospects—and that means you know something, usually a lot, about them.

Never heard of PCRM? Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist—not yet, anyway. But it should. For those who are unfamiliar with Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, it describes a strategy for managing a company’s interactions with customers and prospects. The key to any CRM program is that interactions are with your customers and prospects—and that means you know something, usually a lot, about them.

And as any experienced database marketer knows, knowledge means power—power to tailor the marketing message based on what you know or learn. Essentially, it’s a marriage of marketing and data. Unfortunately, however, many CRM programs miss the boat when it comes to taking advantage of this fact, and fail to communicate with customers and prospects on a 1:1 basis. Hence the need for Personalized CRM, or PCRM, instead.

Personalization is important because, let’s face it, we live in an age of information overload. According to an article in the New York Times published in 2007, at the time Americans were exposed to 5,000 ads a day—and it’s safe to say that number has continued to climb since. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, this fact has been painfully obvious. For marketers, it’s meant a steady and inexorable decline in response rates across the board, in an increasingly futile attempt to get the attention of a distracted populace. How pronounced has the decline been? While a 3 percent response rate might have been the gold standard for a prospecting direct mail campaign 10 years ago, for example, today it hovers at around 1 percent, according to the DMA.

One effective strategy to cut through the clutter is personalization, or 1:1 marketing-a strategy you should be implementing across the board on all your CRM initiatives. Think about it: These are your customers and prospects, and you’ve captured tons a data about them. You know when they became customers, and how. You know what campaigns they’ve responded to, banners they’ve clicked, emails they’ve opened, and so on. You know their gender. You may even know their birthdays. So use this data to drive personalization!

When it comes to implementing 1:1 communications, the good news for marketers is two-fold. First, in our multi-channel world there are increased opportunities to add a personalized touch to your communication strategy; email, direct mail, landing pages and mobile can all be personalized based on your CRM data. Second and perhaps more importantly, the past few years have witnessed a proliferation of new and exciting technologies that make it ridiculously easy for rank-and-file marketers to communicate on a 1:1 basis, much of it not requiring any IT support.

Direct mail, for example, can now be personalized using Variable Data Printing (VDP) software, a technology used by virtually all digital printers in business today. Never tried it? Well, maybe it’s time you did, as the days of ‘spray and pray’ are long gone. And although VDP may be more expensive than traditional offset, the improved response rates can mean improved ROI. On the Interactive side, email marketing and demand generation software have grown up to the point where it’s a snap to personalize both images and text in an email message based on profile data, not to mention trigger multi-touch drip-marketing campaigns based on lead scoring.

When driving customers of prospects to the Web, keep in mind that a personalized landing page can convert traffic up to five times better than a generic Web page ever will. The fact is, keeping customers and prospects focused on the marketing message interlaced with personalized content is a winning combination.