Customer Experience Is King in 2018, and at #AADM18

It’s one of the major themes we’ve seen this year among the most successful marketers: The customer’s experience is your brand — far more so than anything you say in media, paid or earned. If you don’t deliver a great omnichannel experience for your customer, your brand is going to suffer. So what goes into creating those experiences from the point of view of a CMO or brand leader? I have a great chance for you to find out.

Brand leaders in 2018 are obsessed with the customer experience.

It’s one of the major themes we’ve seen this year among the most successful marketers: The customer’s experience is your brand — far more so than anything you say in media, paid or earned. If you don’t deliver a great omnichannel experience for your customers, your brand is going to suffer.

So what goes into creating those experiences from the point of view of a CMO or brand leader?

On June 28 at the All About Direct Marketing virtual conference, we’re going to delve deep into that across many sessions, including keynotes with brand leaders from two top American brands.

Patrick McLean Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer, TD Bank – America's Most Convenient Bank
Patrick McLean EVP and CMO, TD Bank

TD Bank CMO Talks Marketing Leadership

You may have heard TD Bank CMO Patrick McLean on the Marketing Garage podcast. In the afternoon keynote, we’ll go deeper into how McLean and TD Bank build those experiences, and what it takes to be a marketing leader today and in the future.

Xfinity Brand Leader Creates Customer Experiences at Enormous Scale

Todd Arata Senior Vice President, Brand Marketing, Comcast
Todd Arata SVP, Brand Marketing, Comcast

But before that, to kick off the show, we’ll be talking to Comcast Xfinity SVP of Brand Marketing Todd Arata about how Xfinity connects with customers one-to-one at enormous scale as their cable offering has expanded to one of the largest in America. It’s a challenge Comcast is meeting with technology, strategy and out-of-the-box thinking, and we’ll discuss how they make that happen.

And More Marketing Strategy and Insights!

Beyond those star keynotes, the schedule is packed with great sessions:

It’s a stacked agenda, we’ve been working hard on it, and I hope you’ll stop by to hear them all for yourself at the 2018 All About Direct Marketing virtual conference.

 

Why Net Neutrality Is a Marketing Issue

The Net may soon have gate keepers, a price tag or a throttle — and that’s something we should all be concerned about. Marketers, in particular, should be paying attention and throwing their support behind Net Neutrality as both a concept and as a set of regulations because without those safeguards the critical connection points to consumers may be threatened.

“Rusty Lock” Creative Commons license | Credit: Flickr by webhamster

The Net may soon have gate keepers, a price tag or a throttle — and that’s something we should all be concerned about. Marketers, in particular, should be paying attention and throwing their support behind Net Neutrality as both a concept and as a set of regulations because without those safeguards the critical connection points to consumers may be threatened.

New online business models and innovations have thrived with the freedom of equal access officially protected first by the FCC in 2010 with the passage of the Open Internet Order. Many challenges and debates later, this order was expanded in 2015 in an effort to assure a level playing field.

The current administration’s FCC Chair, Ajit Pai, hopes to dismantle the regulations that allow smaller players to compete with huge ISPs like Comcast or Verizon that wield lobbying power and have deep, deep pockets and a big stake in the production and delivery of online content. This could happen before the year end and opens the door to scenarios that include the big ISPs blocking select content, slowing or speeding up select content or instituting pay walls for certain content.

It is easy to see how that may discourage access and innovation for new or smaller players or new offerings as the big power players will be free to throw obstacles in the path of contenders.

Especially now as video becomes ubiquitous as a critical marketing tactic and consumers use increasing bandwidth to stream content, this question needs to be asked: Will video advertising (in particular pre-roll) suffer from a tiered distribution model that forces some, but not all, to pay a premium to deliver that content? Will those consumers consigned to the slow lane stick around to see ads? Marketers may be forced to factor in delivery speed, access and other cost and optimization factors such that the ROI equations will differ based on who you are. This removes meritocracy and weights success not by the quality of your message or product/service but on whether you have the power to shift the odds in your favor.

To be fair, the world is not fair now. Large players already have advantages in cash, scale and access, but the removal of Net Neutrality would fundamentally weaken the very strengths that gave us so many innovations from Internet startups in the past two decades. It’s not a political issue, according to a variety of recent polls as citizens in both major parties overwhelmingly support Net Neutrality. It’s a potential abuse of power issue. Simple and scary.

Opponents of an Internet with fair and equal access cite a distaste for regulations and government interference; some even call it a solution in search of a problem. But the potential for abuse is huge and the impact will reverberate in our economy for decades if we allow power to corrupt the models that drive our fastest growing and most globally influential industries here in the US.

The likely result of the dismantling of the protections currently in place will be higher marketing costs, reduced access to consumers, diminished targeting and data capabilities and declining novelty in online ad offerings and services. That’s not the marketing advances we hope and work for. We can expect the void to be filled by other countries not operating under these adverse conditions for another blow to our global and economic position.

What to do, what to do? “The Internet-Wide Day of Action” online protest took place on July 12 this year and was broadly supported by nearly every company in the Internet game including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Yelp, Dropbox, Netflix, reddit and many others. But you don’t have to be a company to fight for equal access. Make your voice heard in online venues, on your website and with your representatives, sign the petition here at battleforthenet.com, or visit savetheinternet.com for more ideas.

How are you going to fight for equal access?

Customer Onboarding: My Moving Experience

Last weekend, I had one of those occasional experiences I used to avoid as much as possible. Yep, I moved. But I also learned about good onboarding.

Last weekend, I had one of those occasional experiences I used to avoid as much as possible.

All too often, it’s meant pain, screaming, panic, lots of money, and even a little foul language.

Yep, I moved.

In past moves, I’ve lost glasses, boxes of photos, and part of my CD collection.

This time, thanks to a lot of preparation, the only casualties were a few coffee mugs. Having professional help for the first time made a big difference.

I started the process a while ago.

USPS COA MailI filled out the USPS change-of-address form online. So I’m expecting to start getting all kinds of cool new mover mail any day now. Really, marketers, now would be a good time! For one thing, I could use a new couch. And a new place to take my car for an oil and filter change. C’mon, get to it!

But I also tried to be smart about planning my switch in services.

My biggest need is for Internet service; TV is secondary. Because the community I moved to mandates working with a specific company – Comcast – I made sure to reach out to them early. I wanted as little hassle as possible in selecting a plan and starting my service.

After a little phone tag with the company’s sales rep and learning about my options, I made my choices.

The first email arrived in minutes, thanking me for selecting my XFINITY service. Besides letting me set up an account name, it included a link that clicked through to an online “Welcome Guide.”

I also got an alternative way to access information: PDFs to review pricing, channel lineups, and contact information.

Later on in the day, I got a confirmation of my installation appointment. That was followed by a reminder 3 days later. In both cases, the intention was simply to help make the experience easier to get up and running by offering tips and eliminating steps.

Comcast emailAnd since the first milestone – installation – has been reached, I’ve received a few more emails.

One of them offers a refresher course on how to use the X1 Voice Remote. And to be honest, I needed to read that one. Besides easy-to-remember tips, there are multiple links for even more.

Another email goes into some detail on streaming via the company’s app on my phone. It isn’t an important feature, but who know … maybe I’ll think differently in a few months.

This is where there’s some real value in doing your onboarding well. Before, during the setup appointment, maybe I was just overwhelmed, or tired, or thought I knew it all. But getting reminders about the cool things I can do with this service actually makes me appreciate it more than I did before.

So, next on my list: where to get some good pizza!

If Your Brand’s Future Is in the Hands of Millennials, You Should Be Worried

As marketers, we spend an inordinate amount of time developing strategies and executing campaigns to increase leads into the sales funnel, nurture leads, upsell, cross-sell and retain customers. But as any experienced marketer also knows, a monthly churn rate can often outstrip the acquisition rate — effectively losing customers faster than you’re gaining them. Want to know why?

Group using mobile phonesAs marketers, we spend an inordinate amount of time developing strategies and executing campaigns to increase leads into the sales funnel, nurture leads, upsell, cross-sell and retain customers through elaborate loyalty programs. But as any experienced marketer also knows, a monthly churn rate can often outstrip the acquisition rate — effectively losing customers faster than you’re gaining them.

Want to know why?

Forget the ridiculous phone research surveys (those alone make me want to leave my new automobile manufacturer). Or the online survey interrupters that pop up in the middle of searching for that beautiful little, black dress (“We’d love your feedback!” — um … stop bugging me while I’m still shopping, for starters…).

Nope. I’m here to tell you the problem is what’s going on at the retail level. And, if my colleague’s recent experience at a Comcast/XFINITY store is any indication of our future generation of customer service reps, then all brands are in trouble.

If your brand’s future is in the hands of millennials, you should be worried.

It seems that most customers are in a store on their way home from work because when she entered at 5:30 pm, she was not surprised that there were 20 people ahead of her. So why was there only ONE person servicing the floor?

Every so often she’d see someone (yes, a millennial) come out from the “back,” take a look around at the hoard of customers waiting, and scurry back from whence they came.

When she boldly inquired why the rep was working alone, she was told there were 5 – 6 others working in the back counting cash (… um, can you say “hold up?” Apparently this gal missed the training module ‘What not to say to a customer’).

After my colleague got home and the brand new remote she just picked up didn’t pair with the brand new XFINITY box (that’s a customer service/retention story for another day), she had to return to the store the next day — and wait with the rest of the unwashed masses that were being serviced by one cashier.

No wonder DIRECTV is gaining market share.

And then there’s my local Safeway — another example of how not to let the kids run the asylum.

After spending nearly 45 minutes strolling the aisles and loading $200 worth of groceries in my cart, you’d think the cashier and bagger would do everything in their power to ensure a pleasant check-out experience so that I’d come back again. The cashier (a little older, wiser and a lot more savvy) was trying to get me through the line efficiently, but the millennial bagger found his cell phone far more fascinating than my groceries piling up at the end of the runway.

I finally caught the cashier’s eye and murmured “tell him to put his phone away.” Her response was barely a whisper: “YOU tell him to put it away. No one listens to me.”

So I did.

And he did.

And I filled out the survey at the website at the bottom of my receipt, suggesting it be a store-wide policy that workers leave their cell phones in their lockers. Shouldn’t that be an obvious “rule” in 2016?

When I repeat this story to others, I hear equally challenging experiences from clothing boutiques to shoe stores, cafés to bookstores. Young, entry-level workers choosing to keep their heads down, eyes focused on a tiny screen instead of looking at customers and offering help.

Retail stores, while declining in total traffic as compared to websites, are still the brand face for many businesses. So instead of pouring millions into automating back-end, online, shopping tools and sending me daily emails with specials, invest in some in-store customer service training. My experience with your brand is in their hands. And for the folks at Comcast/XFINITY and Safeway, that should be a scary thought.

Too Big to Fail – But Not Too Big to Suck

On a recent “Real Time With Bill Maher” show, Maher responded to the announcement that Time Warner Cable would merge with Comcast Corp. in a $45 billion purchase. He noted that, combined, the two cable systems represent 19 of the 20 largest U.S. markets; and, apart from suppliers like Dish and DirecTV, they have no competitors in these metros. Further, Maher said, the two companies have the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of any cable system. So, as he asked his panelists, where is the value for customers in this merger if both companies are known to have questionable service performance?

On a recent “Real Time With Bill Maher” show, Maher responded to the announcement that Time Warner Cable would merge with Comcast Corp. in a $45 billion purchase. He noted that, combined, the two cable systems represent 19 of the 20 largest U.S. markets; and, apart from suppliers like Dish and DirecTV, they have no competitors in these metros. Further, Maher said, the two companies have the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of any cable system. So, as he asked his panelists, where is the value for customers in this merger if both companies are known to have questionable service performance?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will, of course, have a great deal to say about whether this merger goes through or not. During the past couple of decades, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of cable companies, from 53 at one point to only six now. Addressing some of the early negative reaction to its planned purchase of TWC-which would increase Comcast’s cable base to 30 million subscribers from the 22 million it currently has (a bit less than 30 percent of the overall market)-Comcast has already stated that it will make some concessions to have the merger approved. But, that said, according to company executives, the proposed cost savings and efficiencies that will “ultimately benefit customers” are not likely to either reduce monthly subscription prices or even cause them to rise less rapidly.

Comcast executives have stated that the value to consumers will come via “quality of service, by quality of offerings and by technological innovations.” David Cohen, their Executive VP, said: “Putting these two companies together will not deprive a single customer in America of a choice he or she will have today.” (Opens as a PDF) He also said, “I don’t believe there’s any way to argue that consumers are going to be hurt from a price perspective as a result of this transaction.” But, that said, he also admitted, “Frankly, most of the factors that go into customer bills are beyond our control.” Not very encouraging.

As anyone remotely familiar with Comcast’s history will understand, this is not the first time the company has navigated the river of communications company consolidation: 1995, Scripps, 800,000 subscribers, 1998, Jones Intercable, 1.1 million subscribers; 2000, Lenfest Communications, 1.3 million subscribers.

In 2002, Comcast completed acquisition of AT&T Broadband, in a deal worth $72 billion. This increased the company’s base to its current level of 22 million subscribers, and gave it major presence in markets like Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia and San Francisco-Oakland. In a statement issued by Comcast at the time the purchase was announced, again there was a claim that the merger with AT&T would benefit all stakeholders: “Combining Comcast with AT&T Broadband is a once in a lifetime opportunity that creates immediate value and positions the company for additional growth in the future. Shareholders, employees, and customers alike are poised to reap considerable benefits from this remarkable union.”

There have been technological advances, additional content, and enhanced service, during the ensuing 13 years. But “immediate value” and “considerable benefits”? Having been professionally involved with customer research conducted at the time of this merger, there was genuine question regarding the value perceived by the newly acquired AT&T customers. In a study among customers who discontinued with Comcast post-merger, and also among customers who had been Comcast customers or AT&T customers prior to the merger, poor picture quality (remember, these were the days well before HD), service disruption and high/continually rising prices were the key reasons given for defection to a competitor.

Conversely, when asked to rate their current suppliers on both key attribute importance (a surrogate measure of performance expectation) and performance itself, the highest priorities were all service-related:

  • Reliability of cable service
  • Availability of customer service when needed
  • Speed of service problem resolution
  • Responsiveness of customer service staff

On all principal service attributes except “speed of service problem resolution,” the new supplier was given higher ratings than either Comcast or AT&T. And there were major gaps in all of the above areas. Overall, close to 90 percent of these defected customers said they would be highly likely to continue the relationship with their new supplier. When correlation analysis was performed, pricing and service performance were the key driving factors. In addition, even if Comcast were now able to offer services that overcame their reasons for defection, very few (only about 10 percent) said they would be willing to become Comcast customers again.

Finally, we’ve often focused on unexpressed and unresolved complaints as leading barometers, or indicators, of possible defection. Few of the customers interviewed indicated problems with their current suppliers; however, as in other studies, problem and complaint issues were frequently surfaced for both Comcast and AT&T.

It should be noted that having lost a significant number of customers to Verizon’s FiOS, Comcast has a winback program under way, leveraging quotes from subscribers who have returned to the Xfinity fold. In the usual Macy’s/Gimbel’s customer acquisition and capture theater of war, this marks a marketing change for Comcast. As often observed (and even covered in an entire book, with my co-author, consultant Jill Griffin), winback marketing strategies are rather rarely applied, but can be very successful.

One of the key consumer concerns, especially as it may impact monthly bills, is the cost and control of content. For example, Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast for an exclusive direct connection into its network. As one media analyst noted, “The largest cable company in the nation, on the verge of improving its power to influence broadband policy, is nurturing a class system by capitalizing on its reach as a consumer Internet service provider (ISP).” This could, John C. Abell further stated, be a “game-changer.” Media management and control such as this has echoes of Big Brother for customers, and it is all the more reason Comcast should be paying greater attention to the evolving needs, as well as the squeeze on wallets, of its customers.

Perhaps the principal lesson here, assuming that the FCC allows this merger to proceed and ultimately consummate, will be for Comcast to be proactive in building relationships and service delivery. There’s very little that will increase consumer trust more than “walking the talk,” delivering against the claims of what benefits customers will stand to receive. Conversely, there’s little that will undermine trust and loyalty faster, and more thoroughly, than underdelivery on promises.