3 Customer Experience Tips for Marketers to Reduce Churn

Here’s the backdrop for our customer experience story. It takes most organizations months to onboard new employees to get them to full productivity. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resources Management, an effective onboarding program can take 12 months.

Here’s the backdrop for our customer experience story. It takes most organizations months to onboard new employees to get them to full productivity. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resources Management, an effective onboarding program can take 12 months. (Opens as a PDF)

Onboarding, defined on Wikipedia as “organizational socialization,” is the process by which employees gain the knowledge and skills to succeed at their jobs, and assimilate into the culture of the organization, becoming valued and contributing members of the “tribe.”

Without carefully planned and executed employee onboarding programs, employee attrition goes up, and so does corporate waste, as it costs about nine months of an employees’ salary to terminate and start over again.

This same principle applies to customer loyalty and the very high cost of losing even just one customer. Yet it’s hard to find “onboarding” programs for customers that are as robust as those for employees. Even with the cost of losing a customer being much higher than the loss of a middle management employee. When you lose a customer, you lose not just the cost of acquiring that customer, you lose the next transaction you were counting on, and you lose their entire lifetime value, which can be pretty substantial in the B2B world.

This is where a carefully concerted and executed customer experience becomes mission-critical to any businesses’ success. Interestingly enough, Qualtrics-owned Temkin Group, which conducts regular customer experience rating studies, shows that customers’ satisfaction with brand experiences is dropping. Those rating customers’ experiences as “good” or “excellent” has dropped to 38 percent, or 7 percent lower in 2018 than in 2017.

customer experience graph
Credit: Temkin Group

David Morris, CMO of Proformex, marketing advisor to Resilience Capital, and respected authority on SaaS marketing, has founded and led many businesses to exceptional growth by focusing on customer experience above all else. His mantra for success is really one simple step that if neglected could put any business out of business:

ONCE YOU GET A CUSTOMER, DO EVERYTHING IN YOUR POWER TO FURTHER ENGAGE THEM.

This simple mandate seems like one of those no-brainers for most of you reading this article; yet, if you really did an audit of your business, you’d likely find, like most businesses today, that many of your team members are so focused on getting more and more customers to meet those sales quotas that they are not all that engaged with whom they just sold.

Per Morris, “We spend thousands of dollars and huge amounts of time marketing to customers, and in some cases, a year or more to convert a lead to a customer. And then we lose a customer in a matter of months. When this happens, you spend a lot more money getting customers than you get back in revenue, and that is not a sustainable way to operate a business.”

To stop the craziness and profit bleeding from the above cycle, Morris suggests some simple tactics to re-engage customers through experiences that create the kind of partnerships and added values that take competitors and price out of the equation.

Make Sure Your Customers Are Actually Using Your Product

Nothing kills customer satisfaction ratings like customers who have not gotten around to using the products you sell them. Again, this sounds obvious. But it’s not. Professionals often sign up for SaaS licenses, marketing tools, and systems that they don’t get around to using or put off when training becomes more timely than planned. And quite often, they never get around to telling you. So when it’s time to renew, they go elsewhere.

Utilize the Tool of Face Time

And Morris doesn’t mean online. Get out to your customers office, take them to lunch, talk about the weather, sport teams, your kids. Just get out there and establish some positive energy in real time. In a world where time is one of the most valuable assets we have, giving time to someone is often more valuable than anything tangible you can offer. Customer satisfaction goes up when customers feel they are appreciated, valued and recognized for their achievements, roles and needs. Spending “real time” in the “real” vs. digital world is one of the strongest methods for building long-term customer relations, as Morris teaches his staff and uses himself.

Establish Reciprocal Transparency

Ask customers the tough questions, suggests Morris. And his definition of tough does not include, “What is your budget,” or “How quickly can you buy?” Tough to him includes, “How are we doing? What can we do better? How do we compare to others you’ve used? And how do we need to change to earn your loyalty?” Its tough when someone points out your failures and shortcomings, but until you face them and buck up to change them, you cannot succeed in securing customer loyalty, and frankly many other areas of business and life, in general.

Conclusion

To succeed in business today, you must have a plan for a customer journey that addresses every step of the way, every touchpoint, and is aligned with KPIs across your business. Creating customer journeys and experiences that result in customer satisfaction is really a simple process, as Morris points out. The key is commitment. Get commitment to a consistent process, experience and outcome for every customer, every day, vertically and horizontally within your organization. Start small, grow big and enjoy long-lasting relationships that generate sustainable revenue streams and strong ROMIs.

Note to Airlines: Don’t Follow the Cable Companies’ Lead

There’s no disputing that 2017 has gotten off to a tough start for the airlines. Consumers were already frustrated with seats that seemed inspired by medieval torture devices, proliferating fees, and yield management algorithms that manage to pack the planes to the gills, forcing tense games of seat-rest elbow chicken. Oh, yes, and there was that thing about dragging a doctor off a flight, bloody and unconscious.

Peter Horst is chair of the Fusion Financial Services event later this year. Click here for more details. The event is free to qualified attendees (including travel and lodging) but seats are limited, so apply today!

There’s no disputing that 2017 has gotten off to a tough start for the airlines. Consumers were already frustrated with seats that seemed inspired by medieval torture devices, proliferating fees, and yield management algorithms that manage to pack the planes to the gills, forcing tense games of seat-rest elbow chicken. Oh, yes, and there was that thing about dragging a doctor off a flight, bloody and unconscious.

If people are comparing your airline to he people on "The Walking Dead," a TV show about a zombie apocalypse where the people are even worse than the zombies, you've made some mistakes.
One example of the reaction United received on social media after the incident.

Helping keep temperatures at a boil, social media made it so seamlessly easy to publicize every instance of crabby crew behavior, ticketing injustice, and righteous passenger indignation. Little wonder that an actual riot broke out in the Spirit Air terminal at Ft. Lauderdale’s airport after pilots expressed their displeasure with management by not showing up for work.

A Tone-Deaf Airline Industry Response

In a recent article, I argued that the soul of a brand is really the best prevention against ending up in such a tough spot — building an explicit promise and strong cultural commitment to a set of customer values. But in response to this gloomy atmosphere in their industry, Airlines for America appears to be taking a different tack.

The trade association seems to have brought back a TV ad campaign from last year. It’s an upbeat, peppy piece that stars one of those iconic, yellow-vested guys with the red flashlights and the emphatic directional gestures. With magical red flares in hand, he guides a surprised office-worker from her drab, gray cubicle to a tropical paradise, complete with the requisite flower girl, mai tai boy, and galloping horse on a beach.

The tagline is, “We connect the world”, and it emphasizes all the flights to all the destinations that airlines provide in order to help people get where they want to be.

While it’s a nice enough spot, I think it misses the mark in a few important ways. The first miss is in tone. The cheery focus on the joy of getting away from it all seems a little tin-eared in the context of the meaningful angst surrounding the topic of airline customer experience. If indeed this re-airing of the spot is an attempt to restore some good feeling, the spot risks reinforcing a perception of clueless ignorance of the present feelings of their customers. We’re emotional creatures, and the airlines’ marketing challenge is a deeply emotional one, so hitting the wrong note at this high-pitched moment seems clumsy. Effective empathy requires that marketers show they appreciate their target’s feelings.

A second miss is in the underlying insight. I passionately believe that all great marketing sits on a rigorously true, powerful insight that reveals some aspect of tension within the target’s life. In this respect, I think Airlines for America picked the wrong perch.

I’d bet my house that a core sample of the average air traveler’s brain would not reveal the most relevant insight to be, “Gosh, I just can’t wait for someone to sweep me away from all this!” A less cheerful, but more relevantly true, insight would likely be, “I’ve really come to dread getting on a plane. They just don’t seem to care about me.”

Wanted: Surveys of Surveys

We are bombarded with surveys. Buy a car, get a phone call asking for your opinions. Buy groceries, and the checker gives you the receipt and asks you to answer a few questions. Buy from an online retailer, you’re asked to review a product in a survey. It’s overdone, becoming intrusive and could result in a negative backlash …

Surveys, surveys, surveys ...We are bombarded with surveys. Buy a car, get a phone call asking for your opinions. Buy groceries, and the checker gives you the receipt and asks you to answer a few questions. Buy from an online retailer, you’re asked to review a product in a survey. It’s overdone, becoming intrusive and could result in a negative backlash from your customers.

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook: My rabid dislike of surveys is no secret — my dentist recently sent me a survey after a 15 minute consult. Today, my bank sent me a survey for a 5 minute check deposit transaction at an ATM. This is very annoying.”

My friend’s Facebook comment opened up a litany of snark such as:

“I’ll have a survey for you tomorrow about the service provided by music librarians.”

“Hmm, I wonder what percentage of consumers feel the same way. But now I have no idea how to find out.”

“I’m waiting for SurveyMonkey to send me a survey to rate all of the surveys I have received.”

So maybe that’s what is needed: surveys of surveys. We’re fatiguing our customers with inane questions about their experience, and I suspect many customers roll their eyes thinking that even if they complained, no one will care. Although, that being said, hotels have surveyed me in the past and if I didn’t answer a 10 (on a 1-10 scale), I get an email asking what they could have done to have done better. Let’s face it: not every experience is a 10 and worthy of explaining why.

On the plus side, we can learn a great deal from surveys so we do a better job in the future. That’s smart.

And for some marketers, it’s a way to gauge how soon a person might make a new (or additional) purchase decision. With that information, emails, letters, and digital advertising can be deployed, using a nurture marketing strategy, to generate more sales. But there needs to be depth in the survey, so it’s genuine and doesn’t come off as patronizing.

My recommendations:

  1. The purpose of the survey is for your benefit, but the wording must always be all about your customer. Make sure the customer knows what’s in it for them.
  1. Distill your survey down to as few questions as possible. You’ll probably have more completions if it’s short and sweet.
  1. Offer an incentive for participation that your customer can use now. Sure, it’s nice to be entered into a drawing for something, but has your name ever been drawn?

(My new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code” is available at the DirectMarketingIQ bookstore. Or download my free seven-step guide to help you align your messaging with how the primitive mind thinks. It’s titled “When You Need More Customers, This Is What You Do.” )

5 Data-Driven Strategies to Feed Your Customer Obsession

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

This Forrester Research recently claimed that companies obsessed with customer experience are more profitable and see higher growth. Consider Amazon, Nike or Mercedes Benz, where innovation is part of the culture. Consider how an obsession with innovation at Apple and Google translates to customer delight in their products. For the rest of us, it may be harder without that kind of a culture behind us, but frankly, there is no longer a choice for marketers: Each of us must adopt an attitude of obsession with customer satisfaction. Then, we need to employ a systematic approach to optimizing everything we do toward customer value. The key question to ask at every point in your day, “Is what I’m doing adding real value to a large number of high-value customers?” If not, change it or dump it.

Like any change, in life or business, it starts with attitude. If you don’t work for a customer-obsessed company, can you successfully meet the demands of your market and rise above the competition? At a minimum, companies must embrace that digital and customer experience is everyone’s business—great ideas and the seeds of change can come from anywhere, regardless of title, but do need to be cross-functional and valued to blossom.

It’s time to make this transformation personal. Consider how you can use the technology you have to adapt the customer experiences that you do control, and demonstrate success to the rest of the organization. This proof of concept approach is a great way to get more budget, too. Incremental change is great—improvements to a campaign for next time or an adjustment to the timing for a triggered message are good starting points. However, more is needed.

We must re-think the customer experience across an ecosystem, and not just a set of interactions with owned media or branded touchpoints. Collaborate with other suppliers and influencers to focus on digital efficiency so that you can react in “right time.” Right time is an alternate to “real time” that recognizes that immediacy is not the most effective reaction in all situations. This is especially true since the customer journey is non-linear.

Thinking differently can be difficult inside an organization—especially if you are successful. Often, good ideas are limited because of the way we ask questions about our customers or our marketing programs. A research experiment with third graders provides some proof of why creativity goes beyond tactical application of cleverness or humor. (The video is about two minutes long.)

The project gave two groups of third graders the same assignment—to make a picture out of a triangle. When the assignment was narrowly defined, the pictures came out nicely, but not that different from each other. When the assignment was not defined, the pictures came out wildly different—and much more creative!

Don’t just wait for disruption to come to your industry—learn to disrupt your own business. Truly aim to understand whatever is blocking your path to innovation and customer connection. Consider some of these strategic elements that can help you break free of legacy patterns and test new ideas.

1. Use the Data You Have to Zero-in on Key Segments. Use microtargeting to really get to know your customers. Dig deep into customization and personalization opportunities to find the small, yet potentially profitable subsets of your market and niche offerings.

2. Separate the Signal From the Noise. Being able to do so is a powerful intoxicant: If I can just repeatedly do that one perfect thing that will really drive our business forward, I’d dominate our market and be a hero. Problem is, identifying that one perfect thing is very hard. Marketing analytic models may be more accessible than you think—and perhaps are no longer a luxury, but an imperative for understanding the customer needs—and predicting future behavior. Bring these practices closer to the campaign management and segmentation strategy—and give your analytics teams a seat at the table. Consider some of these key questions that analytics models can answer:

a. What dynamic forces are affecting my customer and how effectively am I changing to meet these changes?
b. Are there new market opportunities developing that I can take advantage of and become the industry leader?
c. Would this new product be interesting to our current customers? What must be true for customers to feel pain? Who are our most valuable customers, and over time? What outside factors impact customer loyalty and retention?
d. What are the characteristics of our best prospects?
e. Which marketing messages and campaigns are contributing, and when do they contribute during the lifecycle?

3. Marketing Automation Tools Are Slowly Evolving to Help You Manage These Changes, but you may need to bolt together point solutions in the meantime (especially if a big upgrade is not in your budget this year). Look to consolidate applications into a platform with data and process level integration to improve efficiency and effectiveness; work to integrate marketing technology with the enterprise infrastructure to reveal deeper insights into customers, partners and market opportunities. Here is a good reason to establish inter-disciplinary teams with IT and sales and customer service and legal to improve marketing contribution, vendor management, due diligence and governance practices.

4. Paid Placements (Native Advertising) Are Here to Stay. Spend your money on the right content and platform and understand which digital properties are performing best. Build budgets and relationships around content placement, sponsorship opportunities, syndication services and content recommendation platforms. Content marketing can’t be limited to owned and earned media if you need to reach larger and broader audiences.

5. Focus on Quality Content; we are all publishers now. Mobile will continue to dominate, so master its impact on your content and targeting. All our writing has to be compelling and adaptable across platforms, and written to the tastes of narrowly targeted personas. Automation tools help to make sure your content is repurposed with panache and context.

Clearly there’s lots of opportunity for growth in many areas of marketing success, particularly as we align our investments in areas where vendors have incentives to innovate. Scouring your budget for “past success” might be a good place to start: Given the advances in technology, will what worked in 2010 or even in 2014 work now in 2015? Please share your own tips and challenges for creating a customer-obsessed culture in your organization in the comments section below.

7 Magic Ways to Maximize Otherwise Boring Fulfillment and Collateral Pieces for Profit

Sure, fulfillment and inserts aren’t as sexy as other forms of marketing, but they can be viable ways to bring in steady, ancillary revenues. I’ve seen some online publishers bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars with a carefully thought-out insert program. For instance, taking a direct mail control piece and adding it in customer fulfillment packages as an insert. A no-brainer, right? Wrong! You’ll be surprised how many businesses are leaving money on the table by not doing this.

Sure, fulfillment and inserts aren’t as sexy as other forms of marketing, but they can be viable ways to bring in steady, ancillary revenues.

I’ve seen some online publishers bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars with a carefully thought-out insert program. For instance, taking a direct mail control piece and adding it in customer fulfillment packages as an insert. A no-brainer, right?

Wrong! You’ll be surprised how many businesses are leaving money on the table by not doing this.

Are you leveraging your fulfillment kit? Do you have a strategy for your inserts?

Here are some simple ideas, when applicable, for print and electronic fulfillment that help encourage sales (cross-sells) and help customer lifetime value:

  1. Personal Welcome or Thank You Letter (whether it’s for newsletters, products or services. It could highlight all products OR current top sellers). This is the first thing a new customer will see. Make sure it is written in a personal, comfortable tone—welcoming the customers and reiterating what a good decision they just made and thanking them for their purchases. You can also add a little verbiage about your core values and what makes you unique in the marketplace. Be sure to reiterate any product guarantees you have, as well as customer service contact information.
  2. Cross-marketing Piece. This can be a current direct mail piece edited for insert purposes. A flier highlighting a current hot product OR a natural, synergistic upsell from the product ordered. Or a “customer favorites” catalog. This encourages continued purchases now and down the road.
  3. Coupon or special discount offer. (or if electronic, coupon/promo code for online ordering). Consider offering a special “thank you” coupon or a “share this with a friend/family member” coupon for additional sales and viral/word of mouth marketing.
  4. Free Sample. (Women may remember Avon used to include tiny little lipsticks or perfume with their order. This approach can be translated in most any business—it could be a small, economy/sample size product, a bonus report, or more. Customers love, love, love freebies!
  5. Renewal at Birth. This is a popular publishing term. If you’re selling a subscription service or continuity program, you can include a renewal order form with your first issue at a special early discount rate.
  6. Packing Slip. Many people overlook this fulfillment piece, but it can be used for more than printing out what is being sent to your customer. You can print your return policy/instruction on this piece of correspondence, as well as adding several product return reasons to help evaluate customer satisfaction and product refinement, going forward.
  7. Feedback/Testimonial Form. Have a form to solicit customers’ feedback and testimonials. This information could be priceless, as far as customer service, marketing, and new product development. Make sure your testimonial collection process is compliant so you can use stellar comments in future marketing efforts.

As most direct response marketers know, the first zero to 30 days is when a customer is red hot—as legendary entrepreneur and best-selling author of, “Ready Fire Aim,” Michael Masterson, would say—in their “buying frenzy.” So don’t leave ’em cold. Give them cross-sell and upsell options.

Leverage this timeframe with your communications and turn your fulfillment pieces into another way to increase sales and relationship-build with your customers.

You may just turn on an additional revenue stream for your business!

Hello, Complaint Department? My Friends Are Listening

If it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one, why do brands continue to try and ignore customer complaints? For as long as there have been businesses selling goods and services, there have been complaint departments. And I’m guessing that as the number of sales increased, so did the number of complaints. So why did it take until the creation of the Internet and the popularity of social media for so many businesses to really start to address customer satisfaction issues?

If it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one, why do brands continue to try and ignore customer complaints?

For as long as there have been businesses selling goods and services, there have been complaint departments. And I’m guessing that as the number of sales increased, so did the number of complaints. So why did it take until the creation of the Internet and the popularity of social media for so many businesses to really start to address customer satisfaction issues?

In the early 1970’s, interactive voice response (IVR) technology came into vogue. While it was designed to service high call volumes, reduce costs and improve the customer experience, we all know it was a great way to avoid actually talking to customers—especially those with complaints.

As companies got bigger, somebody decided that titles like “customer service rep” weren’t friendly enough, or didn’t accurately describe the importance of the position. (Perhaps because they didn’t actually provide service? Well, that’s a topic for another day.)

That said, titles changed to be things like “Customer Relationship Specialist” or “Customer Interaction Management Specialist” (I kid you not). But it didn’t change the job function … nor the attitude or behavior of the rep who was supposedly resolving your complaint.

As complaints soared, so did the many ways businesses tried to avoid a direct dialogue with those harboring a complaint. Once consumers discovered that pressing “0” usually connected one with a live body, businesses changed that option. I recently called one financial institution to complain that the ATM had eaten my card (yes, I was standing in front of the machine reading the teeny-tiny 800 number posted to the machine in the least obvious location). I probably went through five or six different “menu” options before I finally got someone live on the phone who told me that he had never heard of an ATM eating a card before. So I guess he felt it was helpful to call me a liar. Hmmm …

Next came the Web—and with it the “Contact Us” page. But once again, businesses became overwhelmed with the number of consumers who wanted to have a dialogue with them. Now when you visit “Contact Us,” there’s a form to fill out or worse—no email or phone number, but just a link to “Commonly Asked Questions & Answers” or “Popular Topics” or, one of my favorites, “Where’s My Stuff?”

Have you ever tried to call Amazon? Yeah. Good luck finding a phone number. I will say that I had a problem with my Kindle and, after quite a bit of scouring around the website, found a phone number from a dialogue in a Kindle forum. I called it and got GREAT customer service (I think it was Bob’s first call all day because he actually sounded happy to help me).

Now the Web has created a whole new business complaint system—and it’s for all the world to see. From the formalized review process of Yelp and Angie’s List to sites that let you rate your experience with a product/service like OpenTable.com or Hotels.com, you can whine all you want and it’s very difficult for the brands to respond/resolve (even if they wanted to).

It’s easy to go to a company’s Facebook page and post a rant (I’ve seen some really ugly comments posted on some of the biggest brands’ Facebook pages).

I know these public forums can be an extremely unfair system—especially to smaller businesses who live and die from customer reviews. And I know that not everyone is reasonable with their expectation about a product/service, nor do all consumers have legitimate complaints (although they may feel otherwise).

So here’s my suggestion: If you want to build a positive image of your brand, create a culture that allows for customer feedback and conflict resolution. Make it easy for customers to find a phone number, call you and speak to a live person and/or email you and get a fast response. Empower your reps to resolve issues quickly and fairly—perhaps invest in training them how to listen with empathy, and how to make a decision to do “the right thing.” Spend less time and money on “satisfaction surveys” (which I personally dislike) and more time on “creating satisfaction.”

Net-net, treat every customer as if they were your most valuable asset—because they are. It will return a bigger ROI than any marketing campaign investment.

5 Steps for Putting Twitter to Work for Your Brand

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Coming on the heels of a recent $200 million investment and $3.7 billion valuation, Twitter has firmly cemented itself as a force to be reckoned with. A critical communication tool for leading brands, marketers are flocking to this burgeoning social media platform, adding more than 65 million tweets each day. However, establishing and building an effective presence on Twitter takes more than grabbing a name and sending a tweet. It requires work, just like any other channel. With that in mind, here’s a checklist to get you started:

1. Establish your Twitter objectives and do your homework. Spend the necessary time up-front to identify areas of your business that can be served by Twitter — e.g., customer service, tech support, marketing, PR. Define your objectives and metrics for success. Do your homework by conducting a competitive analysis. Read case studies and learn from industry experts and your peers by attending Twitter industry events.

2. Build your presence. Create and complete your bio. Include a clear description of your brand and your stream. Create an avatar and custom background to help reinforce and distinguish your brand. Include a URL to your website or other official brand communities in your bio. Check out @twelpforce if you need help.

3. Develop compelling content and dialogues. Start by listening before speaking. Investigate how your brand/products are organically mentioned and look for opportunities to establish a conversational feed with brand advocates. To engage users, share relevant content and look for opportunities to provide unique value on Twitter, such as offers or photos not found anywhere else. Test content themes such as trivia, historical facts or challenges, and reward your loyal followers with prizes.

Over time, consider establishing multiple accounts to streamline content or interest areas. For example, the NBA uses its primary Twitter account for game updates, offers and breaking news. However, it launched a separate Twitter feed dedicated to historical facts: @NBAHistory.

Also, remember to listen and respond to customer inquiries quickly. Weave conversations across communities. Many brands, such as @CastrolUSA, share news on Twitter and invite followers to join the discussion on their Facebook page.

4. Grow your audience. Promote your communities using all touchpoints — e.g., TV commercial tags, call centers, email. Consider integrating your Twitter feed into your existing website, and experiment with Twitter feeds and advertising units in contextual environments to peak interest and increase followers. Find people already tweeting about your subject and follow them. Identify key influencers, showcase them and encourage them to retweet or @mention you.

Publish Twitter lists to further extend your content and attract followers. List your Twitter account in directories and test sponsored tweets and/or promoted accounts.

5. Manage and measure. A recent study by R2integrated found dedicating time and resources to be the No. 1 issue for marketers when managing their social media presence. Create a team micro-blogging strategy to help keep your social operations nimble and responsive.

The good news is that many people and groups across your organization are interested in learning more about Twitter, and they’ll all benefit from a successful Twitter presence. Get them involved and consider investing in a social media campaign management tool to streamline the process of creating, implementing and analyzing tweets and Facebook posts.

Campaign management tools also enable organizations to manage multiple users. Create benchmarks around key metrics such as customer satisfaction and service levels. Leverage the real-time nature of Twitter to solicit feedback. Be a stickler about channel attribution by using unique coupon codes or tracking URLs tied to shortened URLs.

Finally, take the time to understand the difference and dynamics between public and private tweets, and use direct messages to handle private or sensitive one-to-one conversations.

Twitter isn’t only a new ecosystem, but a constantly evolving one. While a great deal of its evolution is driven by its users, the recent influx of $200 million and focus on making money is certain to increase the opportunities for marketers — advertising and beyond. For marketers to effectively embrace this channel, however, they need to galvanize their internal teams, build a compelling strategy aligned to corporate goals and customer needs, stay current on industry best practices, and maintain and grow their followers by building an engaging dialogue. In the end, some things never change: same marketing fundamentals, different channel.

What’s On the Minds of Email Marketers

I lead a chat session with attendees of eM+C’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo late last month and enjoyed the dialog and all the questions raised. It’s clear that even though email marketing is a pretty well-established channel, it’s still not fully understood – or utilized – by the people tasked with generating higher response and revenue from it.
 

I lead a chat session with attendees of eM+C’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo late last month and enjoyed the dialog and all the questions raised. It’s clear that even though email marketing is a pretty well-established channel, it’s still not fully understood — or utilized — by the people tasked with generating higher response and revenue from it.

Two questions came up repeatedly (perhaps you struggle with these issues, too, and will share what you’ve learned or offer other questions that challenge your program’s success):

1. What can email practitioners do to keep up with their brethren on the social marketing side, who seem to get all the attention and new resources these days?

Just because social marketing hasn’t killed email (all the dire predictions are well dismissed by now), it doesn’t mean that email marketers can rest on their laurels. You have to continue to innovate and improve the experience for subscribers. Email marketers must prove that the channel can grow revenue in order to get more funding and resources.

First, the solution is in smart segmentation, intelligent content strategy and the discipline to match message cadence to the needs of different subscribers. Automation and triggering technology is readily accessible from most email broadcast vendors. Be careful, however, because just sending more and more messages won’t build long-term revenue opportunities. (It might generate revenue in the short term, which is why too many marketers fall into that trap.)

Email marketers must send more of the kinds of messages that subscribers value — e.g., post-purchase offers or reminders; information that helps to make renewal decisions; or tips on how to improve productivity, lose weight this summer or look good in front of your boss (or kids). Try the following three ideas for improved results, higher customer satisfaction and more executive attention:

* Segment and customize content that’s regularly consumed on mobile devices.
If you don’t know what this might be, ask your subscribers! Optimize your mobile rendering by trimming out images and unnecessary links. Streamline your content by sending shorter bits of info more frequently than one longer message.

* Treat customers and prospects differently. They have different relationships with your brand. Even simple segmentation can make a huge difference in relevancy and response — and lowering spam complaints.

* Send fewer generic messages and product announcements in favor of custom content based on customer status, product ownership and recent activity. For B-to-B marketers, acknowledge products customers already own, and celebrate things like anniversaries and renewals. For B-to-C marketers, sitewide sales can be effective, but only if they’re perceived as being somewhat unusual and unique. Customize sales for key segments of your audience, even if that means just changing the subject line or which content is at the top.

You can’t earn a response if you don’t reach the inbox — something that’s becoming increasingly harder to do. Mailbox providers like Yahoo, Gmail and corporate system administrators are using reputation data pulled from the actual practices of individual senders to identify what’s welcome, good and should reach the inbox versus what’s “spammy,” unwelcome, and should go to the junk folder or be blocked altogether.

This creates both friction as well as opportunity. Email marketers must keep their files very clean, mailing only to those subscribers who are active and engaged. And to be welcome, they must create better subscriber experiences. Sender reputation is based on marketers’ practices and is the score of your ability to reach the inbox consistently and earn a response.

2. How do I break through the clutter of the inbox?

The inbox isn’t just more crowded, it’s fragmenting, becoming more device-driven and crowded. Only the best subscriber experiences will break through. The number one mistake email marketers make is forgetting about subscribers’ interests. It’s not about sending out “just one more blast” this week in order to make this month’s number. Do that too often and you’ll soon find your file churning and possibly all of your messages blocked due to high spam complaints (i.e., clicks on the Report Spam button).

Focus on building long-term relationships with your subscribers. Change your metrics to measure engagement and subscriber value, not list size or how many people bother to unsubscribe. What drives the business is response, sharing and continued activity.

Defy internal pressure to abuse the channel by sending only what’s relevant. Work hard to customize content and contact strategies to meet the life stages and needs of each key segment. Ensure that your email program contains content that’s right for the channel. Don’t duplicate with Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Make each channel sing with some unique and powerful value proposition. If you can’t think of one for each channel, then you probably don’t need to be in that channel after all. Tie your business goals to subscribers’ happiness and success. They’ll reward you with response, revenue and long-term subscription.

Thanks to all who participated in the virtual event and my chat session! For everyone, let me know what you think and please share any ideas or comments below.

Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: A Marketer’s 12-Step Program to Accepting Social Media

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

While the proliferation of social networks, social shopping and the corresponding tools needed to facilitate these connections is new and exciting, social media can also be overwhelming to marketers as they struggle to learn the new skills necessary to reach and engage key audiences across the social web.

Consequently, the thought of engaging customers and the fear that those conversations may not go as intended often cause the most experienced marketers to cling to the traditional marketing channels they’ve become most dependent upon. So, how to break free of old habits? Like any good rehab, it starts with a solid 12-step program.

1. Admit you’re an addict. Advertising, direct mail and, yes, even email are seen as comfort food. While still useful, they remain, for the most part, one-way communication channels. Recognizing this and embracing the need to change and be “open” to truly creating dialogues with customers is the first step.

2. Get wet.
Use social networking in your personal life to familiarize yourself with the tools. Don’t be shy because you’re new to the party — you’re not the last one in the pool.

3. Learn some history. Find case studies in your industry, as they’ll often help you identify new opportunities, best practices, cautionary tales and potential business models. Two dozen good ones can be found on my association’s (PMN) website.

4. Evangelize and find an advocate.
Often, embracing social media requires a sea of change, and support is critical. Find an executive sponsor to help push your program through, and continue to evangelize.

5. Get to work. I love starting with Forrester Research’s POST methodology. Take the time to understand your customers, set some objectives, build a strategy and search for the technologies you need to embrace the medium. You may also want to start by socializing some of your traditional channels to test the waters. For example, try adding sharing capabilities within your emails.

6. Build incrementally and listen. Ultimately, you want to be everywhere your customers are. But you need to start somewhere; take small steps. I always recommend starting narrow, but going deep. Take the time to understand each channel, and listen and learn before adding additional networks into the mix.

7. Take chances. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be open to the possibilities of the social web, but keep customers’ needs front and center.

8. Create value. Take the time to understand the value of each channel and how each channel and program can add value to your customers’ experiences with your brand.

9. Be honest, transparent and responsive. Anything otherwise will be quickly noticed in a social environment.

10. Be a team player. Create cross-functional teams to brainstorm and share learnings.

11. Measure success. Review and track activity, measure programs against your business objectives, and calculate ROI. And don’t lose sight of how your programs impact customer satisfaction, as well as customers’ likelihood to recommend and purchase more products.

12. Communicate success. After all, it’s about creating conversations. Share your insights and create excitement for your efforts both internally and externally so others can learn from your experience.

Building conversations and relationships is hard, but when it’s done right and with the best of intentions it can be very rewarding. Welcome to the Age of Conversations.

Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of the Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at info@thepmn.org.

Many Online Retailers Failed to Satisfy Customers This Holiday Season

A survey of customer satisfaction with top retail Web sites during the holiday season is shedding light on which online retailers will thrive in 2009 and which could be facing an uphill battle.

A survey of customer satisfaction with top retail Web sites during the holiday season is shedding light on which online retailers will thrive in 2009 and which could be facing an uphill battle.

Amazon.com and Netflix continued to delight holiday shoppers online while customer satisfaction with Web sites for Circuit City, Gap, Home Depot, Home Shopping Network, Neiman Marcus and Overstock.com is below industry standards, according to the annual Top 40 Online Retail Satisfaction Index from ForeSee Results and FGI Research.

ForeSee used the predictive methodology of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index to examine how successful the top 40 retail Web sites are at encouraging loyalty and purchase intent. All 40 Web sites are rated on a 100-point scale.

The study found that a highly satisfied online shopper is 73 percent more likely to purchase online, 38 percent more likely to purchase offline and 75 percent more likely to recommend a site than is a dissatisfied shopper.

Highlights of the report include the following:
* The only two online marketers that scored greater than 80 on the study’s 100-point scale were Amazon.com and Netflix; both received an 84. QVC came next at 79.
* Ten Web sites improved online shopper satisfaction since last year’s holiday shopping season. The most improved were Walmart.com, which increased 5 percent to a score of 78, and Shopping.hp.com (Hewlett-Packard), which improved by 7 percent to 76.
* Forty percent of the sites measured saw satisfaction decline year over year. The largest declines were for HSN.com, down 9 percent to 69, and Gap.com, which fell 7 percent to 69.
* Five of the six e-retailers that scored 69 this year had lower scores in 2008 than in ’07.