3 Lessons My Move Taught Me About Marketing

This is the last article about my move, I promise! The interesting thing about a move is that it forces you to step outside your comfortable bubble of everyday life. Suddenly you’re forced to navigate new situations, often on a tight timeline.

Recently I orchestrated a cross-country move, shifting 19 years of my life in the course of a week. When you’re in a high pressure situation like that, customer service experiences are make or break. I’m always on the hunt for luxury goods and experiences, but it’s been a long time since I’ve viewed a brand experience through such a high-stakes lens.

Unfulfilled Promises = Customer Resentment

Adding a pandemic-related banner to a website or a COVID-19 reference in the hold music seems to be a common recommendation, but it’s vital that those messages be based on transparency and the desire to communicate useful information to the customer.

While I was trying to get my wifi set up, I spent what felt like a lifetime on hold with the Internet provider, Spectrum, and its droning hold music that reassured me they were “keeping me connected” during COVID. Meanwhile, I had to wait 17 days for installation and wait on hold (with no callback option!) any time I needed help.

Big communications utilities are notorious for fueling absolute resentment and anger, but all brands would do well to remember that it’s better to underpromise and overdeliver. And hey, reminder to check your client experience so you’re not infuriating them with messages that they matter and you’re keeping them connected when you’re not.

High Functioning Service Beats High Tech

In my previous post I mentioned brands’ increasing reliance on tech solutions, often at the expense of customer experience. It’s only becoming a bigger issue as companies turn to tech for help adjusting to the pandemic landscape. While some companies are more well suited to replacing in-person services with tech solutions, what customers really care about is whether they get what they need.

One of the standout brand experiences during my move was surprisingly low tech. I set up a business account with FedEx to manage shipping my 20 boxes from NYC to LA. The website felt absolutely antiquated, but the customer service was exceptionally smooth. Could they benefit from revamping their customer portal? Of course. But I got exactly what I needed. I’m not even close to a luddite, but providing great service is always going to be more important than keeping your tech looking cutting edge.

The Net-Net and Inspiration From Being an Airbnb Host

At the end of the day, the moving experience really helped me think about how I counsel my clients on their customer experience. I think what happens is that brands develop a service or product, pay a ton of attention in the development phase, think they have it all sorted out, and then just set it and forget it. What this taught me is that brands need to actually go through their own customer experience.

Call customer service and try and get a new install. Wait on hold and hear messages about keeping you connected or taking advantage of the brand’s latest tech. Ship packages and see how jarring the experience is when you have to jump back and forth between old and new platforms. By walking in your customers’ shoes, you’ll discover what’s working with your brand experience and what is not.

This whole experience reminded me of Airbnb. I have a vacation home that I rent out on the platform. To get to super host status and become Airbnb Plus, I tried to walk through the customer experience by reminding myself what makes me happy when I check into a 5-star hotel: cookies from the bakery on the counter, bottles of water next to each bed, and making sure the essentials (like milk for a.m. coffee) are always stocked. Then I would sleep in every single room to see what it’s like at night. Does the TV work? Does the AC blast cool enough? Does the street light peep through the blinds? By walking my guests’ walk, I was able to see the areas of friction and create a great customer experience that resulted in only 5-star ratings.

Brands need to walk their customers’ walk.

Brand Experience and a Tale of Two Startups

As if there isn’t already enough happening in the world right now, I’ve been taking on one of the most stressful endeavors at regular times, amplified during COVID: a move! Not just any move — a cross-country move. The thought of being by myself all summer long in this strange pandemic version of New York was making me feel a little unhinged, so I departed for sunny California.

Selling my NYC condo is about as much real estate woe as I can handle, so I turned to specialty startups to help soften my landing in CA. It was like living through one of my very own presentations about brand experience do’s and don’ts.

It all boils down to what I tell my clients all the time:

Customer Service Is the Original Creative Branding Solution — Don’t Overlook It.

Brands are increasingly relying on tech like slick websites and flash apps to appeal to customers. Those things are great, but they only go so far. Great tech is worth nothing if the brand is not thinking about the end-to-end customer experience and all the different touch points that can affect a customer’s perception. Big-picture customer service just isn’t being talked about anymore.

Case in point — the startup I worked with to set up my new place. They specialize in doing all the boring, time-consuming condo tasks, and marketed themselves as having beautifully furnished corporate apartments so that I could “simply show up and start living.” The opportunity to test out an interesting building before I choose exactly where to settle sounded perfect. But what would happen after the marketing has done its job and it’s time to follow through? Nothing good, it turns out.

Just to get the contract signed I was passed around from person to person. It didn’t bode well for the rest of my experience. I’ll spare you the full horror story that awaited me when it was time to check in to my new place. Let’s just say there wasn’t even a bed ready to sleep in. I had to use all my negotiating experience to back out of the agreement, and didn’t receive so much as an apology.

I seek out a great customer experience wherever I go, and this particular experience was a powerful reminder that too many brands are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to marketing and customer service.

Reach out to me if you want to know the company I am talking about so you can avoid the same headache.

Problems Are Universal. Problem Solving Is What Sets You Apart.

Enter the next startup, Feather. I moved to a different unit in the same building, and picked a different startup to work with on furnishing. You get to rent anything you want from their inventory of stylish furniture, which they deliver and set up — it’s more of subscription service versus the good old-fashioned Rent-a-Center model. Everything happened on a sleek app. When I signed up, there was a credit card issue. I got an immediate phone call from a real person who solved the problem. I received follow-up calls to check in and offer help all throughout the process. When a delivery went wrong, they made me feel like fixing it immediately was a priority to them. They even honored a promotion I received after signing up.

As a global brand strategist and a picky consumer of luxury brands, I’ve seen it all, and I promise that old-fashioned customer service isn’t going to stop being important any time soon. Fabulous brand events and other cool experiences you create are quickly forgotten when someone has a bad check in experience at a hotel, or the internet doesn’t work in your Airbnb rental, or a luxury car dealer makes a busy executive come into the dealership to sign paperwork. Never, ever underestimate the basic and fundamental human experience along every touch point of the customer journey.

How to Make Actionable Sense of Customer Sentiment Analysis

Creating a better customer experience is a top priority for most businesses, with 72% of companies saying improving CX is their No. 1 goal, according to data from Forrester. However, figuring out what drives a better user experience is a total guessing game, unless you take a deep dive into customer sentiment analysis.

Creating a better customer experience is a top priority for most businesses, with 72% of companies saying improving CX is their No. 1 goal, according to data from Forrester. However, figuring out what drives a better user experience is a total guessing game, unless you take a deep dive into customer sentiment analysis.

Understanding the responses and reactions that customers give out after using your products can help your brand immensely. Of course, conducting market research and surveys, and gathering feedback from customers are all small but essential steps toward improving your product or service, as well as its user experience. However, these reports are mostly a whole lot of confusing numbers and statistics; they offer no action plan or recommendations, or even insights on what to do next.

Making actionable sense of the numbers can be tricky, especially if there are no clear problems or opportunities that were identified through your research.

So, what should you do? Let’s go step-by-step.

Pinpoint Common Threads in Customer Reviews

While it’s typically a company’s first reaction to try to remove negative reviews that could deter future customers, these actually may be your best resource for fixing hidden issues.

About 25% of consumers have left a review for a local business because of a bad experience, but this doesn’t mean that 100% of these reviews are helpful to either companies or other customers. It’s best to turn to a reliable system here that can sift through emotionally exaggerated (and practically useless) or downright fake reviews and uncover valuable information that could point you toward better solutions.

A review platform, such as Bazaarvoice, allows brands to collect genuine ratings and reviews from customers, respond to their questions and concerns about their products, display moderated content created by customers on social media, and even implement a product sampling program based on the reviews you’ve collected.

Similarly, an interaction management tool, like Podium, gets you in the game earlier, helping you connect and interact with prospects on multiple channels. It enables team collaboration on lead generation and nurturing, as well as solving customer problems, leading to a consistent customer experience.

Customer Sentiment Analysis image
Credit: Podium.com

More customers tend to leave reviews with brands that use customer review management tools. This results in more data for your sentiment research, eventually ensuring better targeting and success of your product marketing campaigns.

Watch out for repeated keywords throughout these reviews, such as issues with customer service, packaging, delivery, or pricing. Looking for patterns in your customer reviews lies at the core of identifying the problems and coming up with solutions.

Use Smart Segmentation

Customers never fit into the one-size-fits-all category. Even if you cater to a small niche or if your product has a very specific use, there will be subsets, segments, and cohorts, all influenced by varying demographics and regulations, who could affect opinions of your business. This is why smart segmentation is important when reviewing customer sentiment analysis.

Again, these segments may need different targeting strategies, depending on whether your company is a B2C or B2B entity.

B2C

B2C marketers need to look at the:

  • age:
  • location:
  • income: and
  • in-the-moment needs of their customers.

B2B

B2B marketers, on the other hand, need to address non-personal variances, such as:

  • company size:
  • budget; or
  • objectives.

By pairing demographic and quantitative data, customer sentiment may make more sense and provide even deeper insight than before. For instance, customers who are motivated by finding the best deal may say that your shipping costs are too high; whereas, customers with FOMO may be ready to pay extra for next-day delivery. When you have multiple datasets of behavioral data that you can compare against one another, your team can understand how to cater to various customer segments by understanding their motivations.

Note that customer “segments” vary from “profiles” or “personas.” They are not as specific, and typically only focus on one or two variables rather than a list of unique qualities. There are countless ways to segment your audience, so be sure to find the segmentation model that best fits your business.

Customer Sentiment Analysis photo
Credit: MeaningCloud.com

Identify Engagement Intent

Understanding the “why” behind your customer’s actions will shed some light on their sentiment reactions. Your expectations always influence your experience, so a customer’s engagement intent could play a part in their response.

The rise of search as a marketing channel has made it clear that there are essentially four engagement intent categories that consumers fall into today:

  • informational;
  • navigational;
  • commercial; and
  • transactional.

Each of these steps correlates well with the traditional AIDA sales funnel model.

Informational

The first is searching for information on a particular subject that may or may not be a problem for them. These are typically prospects who are just entering the marketing funnel. They simply want to know more, so if your website does not offer the information they are looking for, their interest in your brand or product will not develop at all.

Navigational

People in the navigational category are looking for a specific product, service, or piece of content. This group knows what they want, and they will be easily frustrated if they can’t find it.

Commercial

The commercial investigation intent group is interested in buying, but they just aren’t quite ready yet or aren’t convinced that your product offers the best solution for them. They fall just above the action segment of the sales funnel and are often looking for the last bits of information before they make a purchase.

Transactional

And finally, the transactional group has the intent to buy. They have already made their decision to buy a specific product; however, any hiccups in the buying or checkout process could deter them.

Identifying Engagement Intent

Of course, identifying their engagement intent is a little tricky, especially after the interaction has been completed. But with some digging and martech tools, there are ways to figure out the motivations behind every brand-customer engagement.

One of the clearest ways to identify engagement intent is through carrying out intent research, attribution modeling, and analyzing their behavior on your digital property. If they just read a post on your blog, chances are they were looking for more information on a topic related to your industry. If they clicked an ad and filled up a form on your landing page, they are probably interested in availing themselves of your service.

Once their intent has been identified and understood, it will be much easier to understand their sentiment post brand engagement or product usage.

Experiment With Changes

Finally, the only way to make customer analysis actionable is to, well, take action. However, just switching things up without constantly analyzing the results will only put you back at Square One.

Many marketers rely on A/B/n or multivariate testing strategies to compare different changes, whether it be in the design or layout to an entire product or service experience. However, A/B testing can be a long and arduous process that yields murky results. It may even mislead you, if you over-rely on seasonal or contextual variables. Unsurprisingly, AI technology has been a huge help in the A/B testing realm by improving the accuracy and reliability of the process, resulting in few conversion opportunities lost.

AI-based algorithms are able to gather and analyze massive amounts of data at a time. They can compare results of multiple tests against each other simultaneously at various interaction points along the buyer journey.

Tools like Evolv use machine learning (ML) to find which experiences and customer journey paths work best (make profits) for you and nudge customers down those paths accordingly. You can set up experiments on your landing pages with goals and KPIs, and let the algorithm tweak the UX for each customer by presenting various combinations. The data from these experiments help you understand how satisfied the customer is with the interaction, and also develop new hypotheses to keep testing further or make decisions related to product development or service delivery.

The Way Ahead

By understanding the root causes behind your customer’s reactions and feelings, you can go as far as to influence sentiment, improve brand loyalty ,and encourage advocacy. Always be looking for overlaps and commonalities among complaints. This will help you avert PR disasters, deliver exceptional customer service, and stay ahead of the competition.

Use sentiment analysis to understand where your customers are coming from by segmenting them and uncovering their intents at every interaction. Finally, track the effects of all your initiatives and take action responsibly to ensure they stay delighted at all times.

4 Ways Artificial Intelligence Can Impact Your Conversion Rates

At this point, there is little doubt that artificial intelligence is the future of business. The Salesforce “State of Marketing” report found that more than a fifth of businesses currently use AI for marketing purposes, including programmatic buying, personalization, and real-time offers.

At this point, there is little doubt that artificial intelligence is the future of business. The Salesforce “State of Marketing” report found that more than a fifth of businesses currently use AI for marketing purposes, including programmatic buying, personalization, and real-time offers.

artificial intelligence graphic
Credit: Salesforce

Further, AI is the fastest-growing sales technology, according to the Salesforce “State of Sales” report.

Outside of sales and marketing, companies are frequently using artificial business intelligence for tasks like reporting, dashboards, and data warehousing and analytics.

While applying AI to these business operations is certainly beneficial, it does beg the question of how exactly this technology will impact the future of conversion optimization, as well as the most important person in a business: the customer.

At the end of the day, the thing that really matters in business is the numbers. AI technology for analyst reports and predicting turns in the market is all well and good, but if it isn’t boosting sales, then what is the point?

The good news is that AI is showing promising results in terms of conversion rates, proving once again that big data is paving the way to a more profitable future for many companies. Here’s how.

1. Enriches Customer Experience

The concept of improving the customer experience (CX) is a big challenge for many reasons. CX is not merely limited to the user-friendliness of a website or the customer service that is provided; it is a combination of all of these elements. Yet another report from Salesforce found that consistency is a core element in a positive customer experience, and 70% of customers say connected processes based on earlier interactions and contextualized engagement are important for them to do business with a company.

This means that in order to improve the CX for customers, brands must adjust every part of the experience to create a coherent message.

Studies have found that customers are willing to pay more for a better experience with a business. It also has a strong effect on their likelihood to repurchase and refer the product or company to friends.

artificial intelligence graph
Credit: Temkin Group

But what exactly makes up “customer experience” and where does AI fit in?

CX is essentially the accumulation of every interaction a customer has with a business, from introduction, to purchase, to customer service. As experienced business owners know, one small kink in the journey can send people running. AI and machine learning technology can help create a more optimized experience for each customer, from start to finish.

For example, when fashion brand FlyPolar experienced a near 400% decrease in sales in the span of just four months, the business executives knew that something wasn’t right. Because most of its customers purchased online, FlyPolar used AI software to optimize its website landing pages. By using machine learning technology, this AI program “learned” which designs performed best and delivered positive results.

After several weeks of testing, the AI system identified the core roots of the conversion problems and provided the proper insights for solutions. FlyPolar created a simpler four-step conversion funnel on its website, with optimized CTA button placement throughout the landing pages. By using machine learning algorithms, FlyPolar increased its checkout page traffic by 16% and its order value by 13% in just three weeks.

This case study shows that AI technology can quickly and easily identify the root of the problem, arguably one of the most difficult parts of optimizing the CX.

The prediction capabilities of AI-powered systems can also make it easier for your customers to find exactly what they are looking for; which, in turn, improves their experience with your website. Traditional searches base results on matching keywords or similar phrases, which may or may not be accurate. In contrast, present-day search programs use ML to “learn” consumer behavior and accurately return the items that match their queries, based on their previous behavior.

ML-based search takes numerous data points into consideration, including past view and click rates, ratings, and even inventory levels to provide customers with appropriate and targeted results.

It should be no surprise here that Amazon is one of the leading retailers to utilize this kind of technology. Amazon’s recommendation engine uses item-to-item collaborative filtering to provide search results that are based on multiple data points, rather than just keyword matches. Not only does the algorithm take each customer’s past searches, purchases, and product views into consideration, but also the ratings and popularity of each item.

artificial intelligence example
Credit: Amazon

Since Amazon debuted an AI-based recommendation engine, its profits started growing exponentially. By basing search results on multiple criteria, Amazon is able to push certain products while providing shoppers with the results that fit their needs, providing a better experience for the customer with each query.

2. Enhances Personalization

Buying online is no longer a one-size-fits-all experience. In fact, customers are becoming more and more unyielding that businesses customize just about everything to fit their needs. According to Accenture’s “Personalization Pulse Check” report, three out of four customers report that they would be more likely to purchase from a brand that offers personalization and recognition than businesses that do not.

Personalization is also directly related to higher profits. Researchers have found that businesses utilizing big data systems to create personalized experiences for their customers report up to 10% higher revenues.

AI is able to take the guesswork out of personalization. One of the best examples of this strategy in action comes from Starbucks, which reported a 300% increase in customer spending thanks to its highly-customized marketing program. Customers regularly receive personalized offers and incentives to earn more points toward a free drink reward. Every customer’s offer is based on past behavior, including how often each customer purchases and which types of items the customer tends to buy.

Starbucks’ AI-powered personalization system sends out around 400,000 variants of emails with incentives that are almost entirely unique for each recipient. Due to the hyper-personalization that Starbucks offers, many customers find it easy to fulfill the requirements for these rewards. This does wonders to increase consumer participation, purchase frequency, and ultimately, customer loyalty.

artificial intelligence in loyalty programs
Credit: Starbucks App

Of course, loads of consumer data are needed in order for online companies to provide this high level of personalization. Each customer’s preferences, demographics, and behavior must be tracked and analyzed in order for brands to properly adjust their strategies to fit an individual consumer.

The results from integrating personalized messaging and marketing speak for themselves: 63% of marketers report that an increase in conversion rates was the top benefit they saw from personalization.

AI-powered personalization can be used to help customers move their way through the buyer’s journey, as well. Using ML, these programs use predictive analysis to incentivize shoppers with personalized messages, email campaigns, retargeted ads, and more.

The algorithms can study consumer behavior so that ads and other messages are sent at the right time and trigger the ideal response. For example, an algorithm that tracks customers’ click rates and scrolling habits can predict when new customers are likely to abandon their carts and send a well-timed message or personal offer to keep them engaged.

artificial intelligence-generated offer
Credit: Acquisio.com

3. Improves Results of A/B Testing

Most marketing teams and web designers rely on A/B testing to determine the best layouts, color schemes, and messaging to grab their customers’ attention. However, there are obvious limits to the “old-fashioned” testing approach. Gathering the research takes time, and there is not always a clear winner from the results.

In fact, the traditional form of this strategy may not even be effective. Jeremy Miller, marketing director at Sentient, said during an interview:

In traditional A/B testing formats, you have your control vs. an experiment. You run that experiment against your traffic, and whichever design performs better is the one you deploy … but people have found that six out of seven experiments don’t result in a positive outcome, so you actually have to put a lot of energy and resources to try to determine how you can actually increase conversions using A/B testing.”

AI can solve the three biggest problems with traditional A/B testing: time required, insight, and limited variables. By reducing these weaknesses, marketing teams have the ability to make informed design changes with the results and data to support them. Instead of taking a linear approach to testing, AI can compare thousands of variables at the same time and instantly compare the results to determine the best combination.

For example, online lingerie company Cosabella used an AI-driven testing approach when it was redesigning its website. Rather than comparing designs two at a time, like a traditional A/B test would, Cosabella was able to carry out an A/B/n experiment with 160 different design elements, simultaneously. With that many variables, it would have taken up to a year of A/B testing to gather results; with AI, the process took only seven weeks.

artificial intelligence testing
Credit: Cosabella.com

Through this testing process, Cosabella was able to determine the aesthetics that resulted in better conversions. It found that customers bought more when CTA buttons were pink, rather than black. The company also determined that family values resonated with its customers, so it did away with “free shipping” banners and replaced them with “Family Owned Since 1983.” After these short seven weeks of testing, Cosabella reported a 38% increase in conversions and a 1,000% lift in newsletter signups.

4. Speeds Up Customer Service

The faster a company can respond to customer inquiries or issues, the better. For this reason, the demand for live chat grew by 8.29% last year. Unfortunately, most businesses do not have the resources to keep their customer service departments running 24/7, leading to long response wait times for disgruntled customers.

By automating customer service with AI-powered chatbots, businesses can not only solve the issue of wait time, but also the quality of the response and assistance that customers receive.

In 2012, Amtrak’s customer service department serviced 30 million passengers each day. Obviously, with such high numbers, it was difficult to handle individual inquiries in a timely manner, so Amtrak decided to jump on the chatbot train with its AI-powered customer service rep “Julie.”

Julie was able to resolve most of these issues by pre-filling forms through scheduling tools and guiding customers step-by-step through the online booking process. Because most of these problems were handled online, the number of calls and emails decreased dramatically. At the end of the first year, Julie had answered over 5 million questions, increased booking rates by 25%, and generated 30% more revenue, thanks to upsell options included in the messaging.

artificial intelligence chat
Credit: NextIT.com

In terms of conversions, live chatbots can not only resolve issues in an instant, they can increase the chances that a customer decides to buy. When a customer’s issue is solved quickly, they are twice as likely to repurchase from that brand. Live chat is also the preferred method of communication for resolving problems or issues; however, it is important to note that the quality of the messaging far outweighs the speed of the response.

According to Kayako’s report on live chat service, 95% of customers say that receiving a thorough response that answers their question or resolves the problem is more important than just getting a quick reply. This is a major issue that many companies have with AI chatbots; they are simply programmed to give automated, scripted responses, which 29% of customers report as simply frustrating and unhelpful.

This is where AI-based chatbots save the day; they can adjust their messaging based on FAQs, as well as the customer’s phrasing and responses. This process leads to better and more natural replies from bots that delight customers and give them the timely information they need.

An AI chatbot is not a one-time fix to the issue of customer service. It is a strategy that must be properly monitored, adjusted, and perfected over time in order to deliver the best results.

The Wrap

Many conversations these days are revolving around AI and its impact on the future of business. And, quite honestly, it seems like the answer to just about every current business planning issue out there. Predictive analytics can tell you when things are about to change. Machine learning can understand your customers on a personal, granular level, and big data can keep track of every metric for accurate reporting.

However, one of the clearest benefits of AI is the direct impact it can have on conversions. It eliminates the guesswork from improving the CX of webpages and delivers timely and accurate testing results needed to increase the likeliness of conversions. Big data systems and AI make hyper-personalization possible to customize the experience for each visitor. Finally, chatbots can use ML to instantly engage with customers, resolve issues immediately, and close sales.

Success all boils down to how a business makes the customer feel. Most of the time, this is what determines whether or not a customer will purchase. Studies have found, unsurprisingly, that when customers feel special, important, and satisfied, they are more likely to buy from those brands. AI gives brands the power to do just that.

Think of Customer Experience as a Marketing Investment

As products and services become commoditized, organizations need to begin differentiating themselves by becoming customer-centric and providing a consistently good customer experience. The bar is low; it’s pretty easy to stand out from your competition if you just make a commitment to do so.

As products and services become commoditized, organizations need to begin differentiating themselves by becoming customer-centric and providing a consistently good customer experience. The bar is low; it’s pretty easy to stand out from your competition if you just make a commitment to do so.

Here are eight reasons for your organization to invest in customer experience:

  1. Price Isn’t the Only Differentiator. People will pay more for excellent customer service and a great customer experience. In fact, American Express found consumers are willing to spend 17 percent more to do business with companies that deliver excellent customer service.
  2. It’s Not That Hard to Improve Level of Customer Service you provide and improve the customer experience of your customers. It does take commitment, focus, determination, measurement and listening.
  3. Happy Customers Are Good Customers. They buy more, they buy more frequently and they tell their family, friends and colleagues about your products, service and their customer experience. And referrals and word of mouth are still the most cost-effective marketing you can get.
  4. CX Doesn’t Require Leading-Edge Software. However, it does require good customer relationship management (CRM) software and a commitment by everyone in the firm to use it and listen intensely to what the customer is saying and how your organization makes them feel.
  5. It’s Cheaper to Retain Current Customers Than Acquire New Customers — some studies suggest by a factor of seven.
  6. Any Company of Any Size Can Provide Consistently Excellent Customer Service and “wow” customer experiences. It’s a customer-centric attitude that starts at the C-level and cascades down to everyone in the organization.
  7. Happy Customers Find New Customers for You. They provide referrals, testimonials, they share their positive thoughts and experiences with family, friends and colleagues, and they post on social media sites.
  8. Improving CX Pays for Itself. Think of providing good customer service as a marketing investment.

Most companies provide lousy customer service and a negative customer experience. CX is a great way to differentiate your firm from your competition. A customer who has an issue that is resolved is more likely to become a long-term customer and spend more with you over time, than the customer who doesn’t complain. Providing great customer service and a “wow” customer experience can help create “raving fans” who will sing your praises to family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers via the Internet and social media.

A dissatisfied customer leaves and tells their friends, and possibly many others, about what a poor job you did. As such, you’re much better off resolving the issue to the customer’s satisfaction.

Use simple math to convince the CEO to bring marketing and customer service together.

Listen intensely to learn customers’ needs and expectations.

Empower everyone in your organization to provide outstanding customer service to end-user customers and colleagues.

Attitude is everything. When every employee considers themselves part of the customer service team, your company is able to deliver a level of customer service that’s a competitive differentiator for your firm.

Pay back customers for their business with excellent customer service. Your customers will become “raving fans” and will evangelize your brand.

Tesla, the Tornado … and CX, a Tale From the Chargeless Road

CX, particularly for a brand such as Tesla, needs to catch up with the user experience of operating these art-and-science vehicles.

CX lesson for Chet Dalzell
Photo: Chet Dalzell Gets a CX Lesson in Tesla Power Infrastructure, 2018. | Credit: Chet Dalzell

This is a CX tale. Summer goings-on took me to the highway this past week; and with it, concerns from a friend who is planning to drive her Tesla from Denver to Chicago over the coming weekend.

Tesla is an electronic vehicle, and its cars’ “fuel stations” are charging stations, spaced along the highways of America. Without a charge in a car’s battery, the vehicle cannot be operated. Tesla supercharging stations enable a battery to be fully powered in a matter of many minutes, rather than several hours via a conventional plug.

I love all things sustainable, And with it, the beautiful, sleek and very tech-savvy Tesla Model S she owns, with a desktop-size flat screen navigator, spacious sky roof and plentiful horsepower, among many other attributes, satisfies that love. She also owns a Ford 350 pick-up and a Toyota Prius hybrid. We happened to be driving in her pickup truck from western Nebraska (where we had attended a high school reunion in Ogallala) back to her home in metro Denver.

We’re racing along Interstate 76 at an undisclosed speed, when suddenly we see evidence of what had transpired merely hours before. We slow down.

As we approached Brush, Colo. — about 90 miles northeast of Denver — the uncharacteristic late July landscape of green suddenly turned brown, as if every scrub of grass had just been torn from the earth. The sage reduced to lonely stalks. Then, we see the power line poles snapped in two in the field alongside the highway. Even an exit sign is bent over and mangled. We were driving inside the aftermath of a tornado. (Thankfully, this storm injured no one.)

Then we arrived at the Brush exit ramp. A growing army of power vehicles were parked at the Shell station at the foot of the ramp, a sort of power restoration staging area. The gas station itself was damaged heavily — its roof ripped off the main building or caved in (or both), and the gas pumps stripped of their casing. It was surreal. Police tape and pylons restricted access to the one reason we took this very exit: to see if the Tesla supercharge station adjacent to the Shell station was online. Clearly, it was not.

Thankfully, we were in a pickup truck — and not the Tesla, which would have been in need of an immediate charge. My friend was planning her drive two days later to Chicago — and Brush, Colo., is the “first” supercharging station outside of Denver — a full two hours from the next charging station in Ogallala, across Colorado’s northeast border. She told me, with the downhill elevation from Denver to Ogallala, and all non-essentials (air conditioning, et al) turned off — she should be able to make it all of the way to Ogallala, without a charging stop in Brush. For her sake, I hope she’s right.

When ‘Real-Time’ Is Not Real-Time

With Tesla ownership comes a “community” of support for both the brand and electric automotive, in general. This was an introduction to me. All I own for transport is a Citibike key and a New York City MetroCard. Tesla has a branded app, and the e-car community has a non-branded app and site called PlugShare. The Tesla app is supposed to have real-time information on the online status of all stations — and if plugs are available within each station. PlugShare seeks to provide much the same.

At the time of our tornado discovery and aftermath, both apps still showed current power availability in Brush. But a look at the comments section from helpful Tesla and other electric car owners regarding Brush told the real, other story. There’s no power, and no indication of when it may be restored. Tesla owners also commented that they had reported the outage to Tesla by telephone, as early as 90 minutes after the storm. We attempted to call Tesla (some 20 hours after the storm) to inquire about expected restoration, but our call was put on a call-in-queue cycle, and after 15 minutes – with no hold notice on expected wait time — we gave up and hung up.

It wasn’t until the next day when we checked did we find that the Tesla in-car navigation, with charging station status information, had caught up to the Brush station’s still-offline status. Unfortunately, no further information on when the station may be restored was made available there.

In This Case: Why CX Needs to Be State-of-the-Art

Customer experience — particularly for a status brand, such as Tesla — needs to catch up to the user experience of operating these art-and-science vehicles. Especially for a network infrastructure so vital to electronic vehicle operation across distances. In this case, CX is also important to the entire user category. Plugshare helped augment these shortcomings, but Tesla’s CX might be a lot more urgent.

If Citibike can tell me via its app in real-time that docking stations have available bicycles or not, or which docking stations are offline, then why shouldn’t Tesla’s app at least be able to do the same regarding its network of charging stations, in real time? Even if a widespread or localized power outage might interfere with a real-time signal of status, why couldn’t Tesla at least post an in-app notice on its awareness of the incident, or respond to posted comments elsewhere? It might even offer a link to the local utility’s power restoration status, so Tesla drivers can plan their journeys safely and accordingly.

In this outage, it was Tesla owners themselves giving the status updates — via user-facilitated, third-party in-app content.

PlugShare, a third-party app with many more users, seemed to have more user comments about the Brush station status, with myriad reports from Tesla owners regarding the situation. It’s not unusual for non-branded community apps in any given category to be filled with such user information, typically reliable. In this case, brands and their apps should make a point to monitor these go-to third-party communities to react to comments and to keep their own customers informed and engaged there.

There may be extenuating circumstances in play here. Perhaps Tesla does all of the right things — but seeks to verify and validate before posting such information, I’m not sure. But gee, what a beautiful car, with beautiful performance. As an extension of the brand, the customer service experience needs to be equally on-point. For Tesla owners, it’s also a matter of not finding themselves powerless in Brush, Colo.

LinkedIn or Out: Customer Service Fail Is a CX Fail

Target Marketing readers obviously like to be “connected,” and displayed an unusual interest in a piece a few months ago which was not as kind to LinkedIn as it might have been. I was rather caustic at LinkedIn’s repeated efforts to seduce its regular basic account (Free) holders to Premium usage. A one-month free trial is enticing, especially when promised a reminder before the free trial ends.

Target Marketing readers obviously like to be “connected,” and displayed an unusual interest in a piece a few months ago which was not as kind to LinkedIn as it might have been. I was rather caustic at LinkedIn’s repeated efforts to seduce its regular basic account (Free) holders to Premium usage. A one-month free trial is enticing, especially when promised a reminder before the free trial ends.

LinkedIn notice for Peter J. Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

So far, so good — until you try and cancel the trial. The problem — in this case, I was charged for Premium after having cancelled well before the trial expiration date. I wanted the charge refunded. Now it is like visiting the house of mirrors at a carnival. It’s a LinkedIn customer service fail.

LinkedIn two LinkedIn notice for Peter J. Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

My LinkedIn Customer Experience

The way through the Help facility is easy and inviting. But once inside, you are turned around and around with dizzying regularity — from one screen to another — always being asked optimistically if the problem has been solved: and being offered nothing new when it has not.

Clicking on the magnifying glass takes you immediately to this helpful screen: The “Cancel Subscription” button on the right seems like a light at the end of the tunnel.

LinkedIn three LinkedIn notice for Peter J. Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

But, alas, no! All it does is cycle me back to nowhere with nowhere to go … unless, of course, I want to “Try,” “View,” “Buy” or “Buy” one of the products. And I’m not going there again.

LinkedIn four LinkedIn notice for Peter J. Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

LinkedIn Customer Service Fail

What is truly amazing is that there is no contact with anyone, live or robotic.

The fairly incredible irony of a company, with a mission to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful, is in not allowing the customer to have any contact with any individual. It would be laughable if it weren’t so profoundly off-mission. But it is. Jane, one LinkedIn executive contacted informally, admitted ashamedly: “You can’t talk to a live person. Even I don’t have any CS direct contact.”

Will I be able to do anything about having been wrongly charged and unable to reverse it other than refuse to pay, spend some time in jail making direct contact with some of the world’s unsavory professionals, and be no better off at the end of the game?

All I can ask you is to comment, tell me what you think of this CX and, most importantly, watch this space.

Implement DevOps to Improve CX

There’s been a movement in IT during the past seven or so years to adopt a DevOps methodology; whereby, developers and operations are working together to deliver sound secure code and applications in a frequent and timely manner.

There’s been a movement in IT during the past seven or so years to adopt a DevOps methodology; whereby, developers and operations are working together to deliver sound secure code and applications in a frequent and timely manner. Companies have gone from releasing new code annually or semi-annually to continuously in order to meet customer needs. Software companies are focused on delivering a great user and customer experience (CX).

The success of DevOps got me to thinking, “Will the same methodology work for sales, marketing and customer service?”

The steps are straightforward and intuitive:

  1. Plan
  2. Create
  3. Verify
  4. Package
  5. Release
  6. Deploy
  7. Monitor

Let’s look at each step in the process and see how it might work for sales, marketing and customer service to improve customer experience.

  • Plan: Where every project needs to start. All three parts of the business need to sit down together and define the business problem they’re trying to solve. Given that 85 percent of companies think they’re delivering a good customer experience, while only 15 percent of customers believe the same indicates there’s a huge gap between perception and reality. Perhaps you need an NPS or customer satisfaction study to help everyone get on the same page about the problem(s) you need to solve to improve the customer experience you are providing.
  • Create: Here’s where you need to map the customer journey from initial consideration to installation and repurchase. You also need to know what the customer expectation and experience are at each of the stages of the customer journey. You can create a hypothetical customer journey by collecting the experiences and impressions of your team, as well as analyzing all of the data you have regarding awareness, attribution and survey results.
  • Verify: You need to validate the accuracy of your hypothetical customer journey map with your customers. Data can tell you a lot. Real customers can tell you a lot more. How accurate is your map? At what step in the customer journey are you meeting customer expectations, where are you exceeding them and where are you failing to deliver? Talk to customers to find out.
  • Package: After you’ve verified your customer journey map, it’s time to identify steps to take to improve the customer experience. You may identify a dozen or more opportunities; however, start small. Have sales, marketing and customer service each identify one thing they can add to or change in their current process to improve the customer experience. As you have success with those initiatives, and see the positive results, you can take on more initiatives.
  • Release: Start doing the three things you identified with a segment of your audience. Sales may be differentiating marketing-qualified leads from sales-qualified leads. Marketing may be providing more personalized, relevant information of value. While customer service may be using a 360-degree view of the customer so they already know what the customer’s issue is and are able to resolve it on the first call (or email or text).
  • Deploy: Once the release is complete and you know how the initiatives are performing, you can deploy the initiatives across your entire audience of customers and prospects.
  • Monitor: Perhaps the greatest return on the DevOps process is the speed at which the organization learning about how its applications are performing. Short feedback loops let the DevOps teams know how consumers are responding to their apps and their code and improvements can be made quickly and released back to the consumer who sees the continuous improvement. This can be a tremendous benefit for sales, marketing and customer service.

Sales sees productivity increase and sales cycles shorten as they focus their efforts on sales-qualified leads. Marketing sees greater open and click-through rates with more relevant communications. Customer service sees and hears happier customers who are getting their questions and problems resolved more quickly.

Now that these three initiatives have been implemented, you can tackle the other five, 10 or 20. Improving the customer experience is a never-ending journey, but one which differentiates your company from your competition, while generating more revenue, more repeat purchases and more customer equity.

When ‘Customer Service’ Makes Things Worse

When a customer has to contact customer service, you’ve already messed up. When that customer service is lacking, lazy or downright stupid, it might as well be an ad for your worst competitor. And this weekend, a Windows 10 glitch and bonehead customer service nearly sent my household to the waiting arms of Apple.

When a customer has to contact customer service, you’ve already messed up. When that customer service is lacking, lazy or downright stupid, it might as well be an ad for your worst competitor. And this weekend, a Windows 10 glitch and bonehead customer service nearly sent my household to the waiting arms of Apple.

So, the situation was this: With the latest updates, some Windows 10 computers are running into an issue where the PC suddenly stops recognizing the mouse and keyboard. This isn’t even a new issue, some users have been experiencing issues with this since the upgrades started. And this weekend, that happened to my home desktop (right in the middle of my wife using it, too). Both devices worked fine in the system boot menu — so the issue wasn’t with the hardware or USB drives — but once Windows started … nothing.

Smash computer gifSince our desktop does not have a touchscreen, voice interface or mind-reading attachment, it was effectively bricked. All I could do was restart it and access the boot menus during start-up, and the only useful thing there was a full hard drive factory image rest. (This was also how I found out Windows 10 no longer has the old reliable safe mode.)

OK, I know this game. I need to go find a driver or something and figure out a way to install it with a rescue disk of some sort. … I’m never, ever getting this time back,  but I should be able to find what I need to fix it.

To the Googles I Go!

(Side note: Don’t mistake that for a chipper mood. There is no wasted time I resent more than time wasted fixing a computer problem the OS created.)

One of the trends that’s emerged in customer service, especially around computing, is the customer service forum. Rather than man countless customer service lines, a manufacturer sets up a forum where it hopes customers will help each other with their problems. It may even staff the forum with CSRs (perhaps AI CSRs).

So I find my way to the Microsoft forum where at least a few other users are running into the same problem. And the reply from the Microsoft support person is to launch the hardware device troubleshooter by pressing the Windows Key and X. …

Remember, this is to fix a computer where the keyboard and mouse are not working.

Oh, but he has other advice: Uninstall and reinstall the keyboard and mouse drivers … Also by pressing Windows Key and X …

After some incredulous replies, another Microsoft rep posts a different answer: Perform a “clean boot” (apparently this replaced safe mode) by … using the mouse to pull up the system configuration menu and navigate around that to start the clean boot.

Now, I’ve been a lifelong Windows user at home. I’ve used Apple machines at work for years because that’s what publishers tend to provide for the creative teams, but at home I’ve been a pretty loyal Windows user. I even have an Xbox.

And I swear by the time I was done this weekend, I was pricing out Macs for my home. I’ve never seen a more effective ad for Apple products in my entire life than the idiocy of some of the Windows customer service.

So, I did the only logical thing and performed a hard disk factory image restore via the manufacturer’s boot menu (not Microsoft) … And now I am once again the owner of a Windows 7 machine.

This is not the outcome Microsoft wanted.

So, my advice to all marketers, especially IT marketers, is mind your customer service. Because it only takes a few stupid customer service replies to make a loyal customer rethink your entire ecosystem.