When Brands Apologize, Customers Often Listen and Forgive

Happy customers are loyal customers. But what happens when “surprise and delight” is actually “surprise and incite”? Social media has raised the stakes for brands. Customers, most often angry ones, have a forum to air their grievances.

Happy customers are loyal customers. But what happens when “surprise and delight” is actually “surprise and incite”?

Social media has raised the stakes for brands. Customers, most often angry ones, have a forum to air their grievances. I see it constantly on Twitter, and have admittedly participated myself, when air travel goes terribly wrong or quality falls short of expectations.

The good news is that it’s recoverable.

Brands that react swiftly, thoughtfully, and transparently are the ones who win. And by win, I mean they don’t necessarily lose customers as a result of their actions, inaction or missteps.

This week alone, two retailers were seemingly insensitive to their female customers and perceived as body-shaming the very people they want to empower.

Macy’s

Macy’s was called out in one tweet that received 48,000 likes and 6,000 comments for plates by a company called Pourtions that were highly controversial for their message. Intended to bring humor to the concept of portion control, the dinner plates feature a large ring that read “Mom Jeans,” a smaller ring that read “Favorite Jeans,” and an even smaller ring that read “Skinny Jeans.”

Macy’s responded by apologizing and vowing to remove the plates from their stores. Of course, not everyone in the Twittersphere agreed with this decision. But it does show a sense of responsibility for its products and consideration for its customers.

Forever 21

Forever 21 also came under fire this week for sending Atkins bars in online orders with plus size merchandise. They’re not just good at fast fashion, but they also showed they can deliver a fast reaction.

In response to press coverage of the “snafu,” Forever 21 said:

“From time to time, Forever 21 surprises our customers with free test products from third parties in their e-commerce orders. The freebie items in question were included in all online orders, across all sizes and categories, for a limited time, and have since been removed. This was an oversight on our part and we sincerely apologize for any offense this may have caused to our customers, as this was not our intention in any way.”

In this case, I think the word “test” is a critical one. If Forever 21 had done some market research and testing, perhaps it would have learned that a partnership with a brand like Atkins, that is depicted as a diet company, could be detrimental to its brand perception.

Conclusion

The merchandise you sell, the partners you align with, the sites where your ads run, the people you hire, the way you respond to criticism — all of these decisions impact your customers and shape your brand identity.

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

Create Direct Mail Pieces Your Customers Sell For You

Is it really possible to create direct mail pieces that get your customers to sell for you? Yes, it is. This is not easy and must have careful planning, but you can drive customers to sell for you through your direct mail program. It may sound too good to be true, but it’s not. So how can you get your customers started and ready to create direct mail pieces?

Is it really possible to create direct mail pieces that get your customers to sell for you? Yes, it is. This is not easy and must have careful planning, but you can drive customers to sell for you through your direct mail program. It may sound too good to be true, but it’s not. So how can you get your customers started and ready to create direct mail pieces?

  1. Happy Customers – Before you can even consider this type of plan, you need to have happy customers. How can you make happy customers? Make sure you know what they want, deliver it to them, plus a little extra. Your customers love it when you go above and beyond and they want others to experience it, too.
  2. Incentives – In order to drive the selling behavior, you need to add an incentive for customers. You can do this with discounts, giveaways or anything else your customers will find value in.
  3. Method – Make it easy for your customers to sell for you with a “give a friend” coupon cards, a tear-off postcard, a buck slip or any other device you can think of for them to share with friends or neighbors.
  4. Tracking – You need to be able to track who is referring you and who your new customers are. In order to do that, you will need to code your pieces so that, as responses come in, you have the ability to match them back to your data. This will also allow you to see which customers brought you the most sales and which offers resonated the most.
  5. Reward – Once you have the information on your top customer referral sales, you should reward them for all of their hard work. A thank you note and a small gift go a long way toward getting you continued business.

Once you have cycled in a new customer, you then want to make them a part of your selling program so that they can share your services with their friends, neighbors and family. This referral program can really build into a nice revenue stream, as long as you are taking care of people along the way. Happy customers are No. 1 for a reason: without them, this program does not work.

Direct mail is a great channel for this type of program, because it gives real tangible materials to your customers to pass on to people they know. Make sure that you are creating pieces that are worthy of their efforts. Make them interesting and of real value. Add images, color and even texture to draw attention. This type of program should have mail pieces that cost more; remember your overhead is lower because the customer is selling for you. Use those extra funds to make fun and engaging pieces people will not only want to pass on but will respond to when they get them.

Not all direct mail is effective. The more time you take in strategic planning and really focusing on the customer and how you can help them, the better this program will work for you. Are you ready to get started?

Wrestling the One-Time Buyer Syndrome

Marketers have different names for them. Some marketers call them “One-and-done” customers. Others call them by more innocuous “1-Time Buyers” phrases. The latter is the literal description of what they are. But I call them “problems” — potential or immediate.

Marketers have different names for them. Some marketers call them “One-and-done” customers. Others call them by more innocuous “1-Time Buyers” phrases. The latter is the literal description of what they are. But I call them “problems” — potential or immediate.

Considering how much marketers spend to acquire any new customer, those one-timers pose real challenges. In the metrics-governed marketing world where ROI means everything, they put marketers in the corner from the beginning.

“Great! Someone just walked in, bought and walked out with merchandise! But will we ever recover the acquisition cost from them? We gave them a fat 20% discount just for showing up!”

In the old days — not too long ago, though — marketers used to plan to break even on new customers on their second or third purchase. Now, no one seems to have that kind of patience in the fast lane, where “everything, all the time” is the norm and the consumers are distracted constantly by competing offers and messages. Hence, many retailers put out an ambitious goal of breaking even at “hello.”

The Customer Acquisition and Retention Challenge

That translates into good news for low-cost acquisition channels, like email or Facebook, and bad news for relatively expensive channels, like direct marketing or traditional media. Regardless of channel usage, however, marketers must be smart about both retention and acquisition. In other words, they must stop the bleeding and pump in new blood at the same time.

I often see that one-time buyers make up over 80% of the customer base of a retailer. Even when we go back four to five years and count every transaction, the lowest figure that I’ve seen hovers around 60% or so.

That means, even in an unusually decent case, more than half of new customers do not come back. Pretty scary stuff.

What Marketers Can Do to Retain Customers

If that figure goes over 80%, I recommend starting with a more refined acquisition strategy. Simply because without new blood coming in, there won’t be much to talk about in the near future.

The first thing that I would ask is how aggressive the marketers want to be in terms of channel usage. I’ve seen bold ones who go the multichannel route with varying degrees of cost-friendliness, and conservative ones who would stick only with cheap and measurable channels.

To Retain, Acquire Customers Intelligently

Regardless of the degree of aggressiveness, the first concern is if they have been targeting the “right” prospects.

Years of experience in data and analytics business taught me that not all customers are created equal. You may have multiple pockets (or segments) of vastly different types of customers in your base, starting with the most valuable customers to downright barnacles who are professional bargain-seekers with no chance of being a loyal customer.

Going after the right kind of customers during the acquisition stage will curb the one-time buyer problem.

Whether you want to toss a bunch target samples to Facebook, go to third-party data vendors or join a co-op for modeled prospects, I strongly suggest marketers define the ideal target for them first.

  • When you say “valuable,” what does that really mean?
  • In terms of frequency, is that measured by the number of transactions or days between transactions?
  • In terms of dollars, is that in total customer value or average spending level per transactions?

There are many ways to do it, and what I am suggesting is to try them as many as you can — when it comes to target definitions — and keep testing them. Targeting requires adjustment of the gunsight, with many rounds of practice shots.

One of the tricks I’ve learned while being a vendor all of my life is that you never try one method, one channel or one type of target. Because, if that “one” thing fails, you’ll be fired. Simple as that. But if you try three to four different combinations of target definitions and methodologies, then you have a better fighting chance to stay in the game, thanks to cumulative learning. After all, 1:1 marketing is all about learning from the past endeavors, isn’t it?

Here’s What I Recommend

So, I recommend trying different types of targeting (i.e., target definition of any “look-alike” modeling or simple selects) in different focus areas. For example:

  • Behavioral Targeting: Target after you your audience’s best behavior, however you define them. I would use separate measures, such as transaction frequency and dollar amount, as responsiveness is often inversely related to sheer value (e.g., an infrequent visitor who spends a lot in one transaction).
  • Demographic Targeting: What do those most valuable customers look like? What demographic clusters do they belong to, and what are their key demographic profiles? This type of targeting may not be as precise as behavioral targeting, but basic segmentation often provides a common language among disparate players in the acquisition play, including copywriters who would come up with relevant messages for each segment. Commonly defined clusters also open doors toward new target areas (e.g., targeting Millennials when an existing target base is mostly in older age segments).
  • Regional Targeting: It is not unusual to see a high concentration of customers around physical store locations, even for online traffic. Test in and out of traditional footprints for an effective expansion strategy by channel.
  • Product Targeting: Depending on the product lines, you may be dealing with vastly different customer profiles. Customer profile by high-level product category is important, as it is not a good idea to have a one-size-fits-all type of targeting when you carry distinct lines of products. The average of multiple types of customers is really nothing; there are no such things as “average” customers, when they are separated in dichotomous universes.

There are many ways to slice and dice this, but the important thing is to let the ideas fly within reason (i.e., don’t overdo it, either). And at some point, you will run out of options just using RFM segments, so plan to dive into look-alike models; many list vendors and social media publishers offer modeling, either in forms of traditional models or machine learning. But even the most cutting-edge targeting engines won’t work if the target is way off. Attracting barnacles is just one example.

Now Retain Those Customers

Then I would turn the attention to the retention side to curb this one-time buyer problem. But this time, I suggest marketers look at it not just from the segment/targeting point of view, but from the timeline point of view, as well.

7 Event Planning Tips and Tricks From the Pros

Event planning is an eloquent art that can leave a lasting impression on attendees. Strategic event planning can be used to create new relationships, promote a product and increase employee participation. When done right, an event will leave a positive lasting impression long after it has passed. Follow this easy to use, step-by-step guide to plan an event like the pros.

Event planning is an eloquent art that can leave a lasting impression on attendees. Strategic event planning can be used to create new relationships, promote a product and increase employee participation. When done right, an event will leave a positive lasting impression long after it has passed.

Follow this easy to use, step-by-step guide to plan an event like the pros.

1. Event Planning with a Purpose

The beginning stages of event planning can never start too early. The first thing you should focus on is the purpose of your event. Are you fundraising, holding an informational workshop or corporate event? Or maybe your event is a celebration like a birthday party, wedding or anniversary. Whatever the occasion, once you clearly define your purpose, other things will fall into place, including who will be attending, the décor and how the occasion will be organized.

2. Gather Volunteers

Event planning is hard work and it can be difficult to go it alone. If you know people who are willing to volunteer, you can start delegating specific tasks to them. Sending invites, welcoming guests and cleaning are things you should think about when considering who is going to do what. If you are unable to find people who can help you for free, consider hiring a crew.

3. Create an Event Budget

If you don’t create a budget, you run the risk of spending way more than you had anticipated. Think about the cost of location, staff, food and whatever other expenses will be incurred. Try to save money wherever possible.  This can be done by finding inexpensive venues and using volunteers rather than a hired staff.

4. Decide on the Event Time and Place

Before deciding on a date, think about what else might be happening around that time. If there are other events that are similar to yours happening on the same date, it may hurt your attendance. Also, consider working around holidays and school or work schedules.

When thinking about location, find something that will be easily accessible for your guests. Also, note that your venue should be booked in advance, so you can be sure it will be available on the date you are requesting. If you are planning an event in Detroit, Brooklyn Outdoor can provide an industrial chic loft with panoramic views of the city. Use of this space includes an attentive staff that can see to every last detail.

6. Other Logistics

Other logistics to be considered include parking, what items and equipment you will need, whether you want to provide giveaways for your guests to take home and whether you want to have a photographer present to document the event.

7. The Countdown

As the event gets closer, you will realize there is a lot of be done to make everything run smoothly. When you are about two weeks out from the event, you will want to think about meeting with your team, visiting the venue and confirming your guest list to make sure everyone is on the same page.

During this time, it is easy to become stressed out so do your best to keep calm. Careful planning in the early stages can help to eliminate some of the stress. Planning an event is a lot of work, but if you are well organized, it can go relatively smoothly.

CX Isn’t Hard, It’s Common Sense

I continue to urge companies to differentiate on the basis of customer experience — the bar is so low, it’s doesn’t take a lot of effort or money to impress. Just some common sense.

I just returned a pair of shoes to New Balance that didn’t fit. New Balance sent them back to me because it didn’t have the cheap insoles that came with them. I bought a pair of $45 insoles to go with the shoes and threw the cheap ones away. Luckily, I had already bought replacement shoes and had not thrown those insoles out, so UPS is getting revenue from two unnecessary shipments.

Obviously, New Balance has a policy about what constitutes “like new condition.” “Missing insoles” renders the shoes to be deemed “not in like new condition,” regardless of what else the customer ordered — $45 insoles, $70 pants and another pair of $80 shoes — enough to earn “silver” status in its myNBrewards program.

I was in the process of changing from Asics to New Balance, because my workout routine has changed. But New Balance has made a less than positive impression. While the company has mapped the customer journey, it didn’t get to the point where it considered returns.

In the future, I’ll deal with Zappos. The business makes it simpler and easier for me to buy and return shoes.

What’s the first impression your company, product or service makes on a prospective customer? Are your parking lots/garages clean? Are your entries/exits clean? Are your bathrooms clean? Do you offer free, easy to access, Wi-Fi? Is your website secure, easy to navigate and purchase from?

These are basic considerations for any business, whether B2B or B2C. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will ultimately help improve the customer experience, but you will still need people to help you make a positive first impression. A first impression is critical if you’re going to turn a prospect into a customer for which you can provide an experience.

I continue to urge companies to differentiate on the basis of customer experience — the bar is so low, it’s doesn’t take a lot of effort or money to impress. Just some common sense.

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.

Marketing Promises: Does Your Brand’s CX Add Up?

Customer experience (CX) is more critical than clever ads and interesting content for getting new sales, securing repeat sales, referrals and loyalty. And it’s been this way for more than a couple of years. So how is it, then, that we continue to get really bad service from some of the really big brands that have the resources to really know and do better?

Customer experience (CX) is more critical than clever ads and interesting content for getting new sales, securing repeat sales, referrals and loyalty. And it’s been this way for more than a couple of years. So how is it, then, that we continue to get really bad service from some of the really big brands that have the resources to really know and do better?

Bad customer experiences, including difficulties customers have getting information about your products, not only kill sales, but can wipe out all of your efforts and spend on marketing, and actually backfire. Take this next statement seriously if you want to keep your job.

If your marketing promises a happy, customer-first friendly experience through words, offers and images, but your sales and customer service are not lined up to deliver accordingly, change your marketing or don’t market at all!

Missed expectations don’t just miss the mark, they miss the ability to generate trust, loyalty and referrals from customers. Oftentimes, they create such bad impressions people go to the competition and tell everyone how bad your business was!

Case in Point: Here’s a rundown of the experience I had just this week with Lowe’s while shopping for new kitchen countertops.

  1. Visit website and find no information on pricing for options listed.
  2. Go to the store and look at samples.
  3. Salesperson tells me she can’t help me, but the guy tied up on the phone can.
  4. Wait and he never acknowledges us, so we leave.
  5. Go to website and look for granite and quartz styles.
  6. Again no prices, no measurement guide or cost estimator to guide selection.
  7. Call the store again.
  8. Told I have to call the store closest to my house, as prices change at each location. (What? Does this mean they mark up prices when they think they can get away with it?)
  9. Call the local store.
  10. Am told sales rep is out to lunch and will call back.
  11. Never does.
  12. Connect with online chat that tells me they don’t have prices.
  13. Call the store again.
  14. Get sales rep, who tells me she’s busy, but will call me back.
  15. Never does.
  16. Get an automated email from sales rep per the online chat I did.
  17. Sales rep has no idea I am the one she told she’d call back, but never did.
  18. Email sales rep asking for prices.
  19. She sends me category prices, which are of no help as they are not listed on website.
  20. I email back as to what styles are in the lower category.
  21. She emails me names of styles that are not on their website.
  22. I delete the email and get an estimate for various options from Home Depot in less than 10 minutes, using its online estimator based on actual prices listed on website.

That Lowe’s experience involved 21 touchpoints or actions on my part that went nowhere.

A friend of mine bought a microwave from Lowe’s and paid for installation, which was promised in 48 hours. Instead, he got a series of unreturned calls, and excuses from employees, which included, “It’s been a long day so I can’t help you; I’m going home early,” over eight days. He returned the microwave and shopped local, where he got the same microwave for less money and got it installed in 24 hours.

Its advertising promise is, “Never Stop Improving.” But perhaps Lowe’s needs to change it to “Never Will Be Improving” as this kind of service, and difficulty in getting information about products you are trying to buy, is unconscionable and has been for years in this decade of customer experience strategy and technology.

On the other hand, Home Depot’s promise, “More Saving. More Doing.” was right in line with my experience. It DOES provide information about products online and on the phone. It DOES provide guides to help you determine what you need and what your costs will be, and it DOES help you save by offering discounts frequently. Even though it, too, didn’t return phone calls. I totally don’t get that for any business.

The purpose of sharing this story is not to call out Lowe’s, even though it deserves it, but to make a critical point. Your ad copy, marketing promises, content offers and more, MUST align with the experience you offer at all touchpoints of a customer journey. You can’t just come up with a great slogan that promises unexpected, delightful service and products. You have to deliver!

When people see slogans like “never stop improving,” they call or chat or go to the store with an unconscious expectation that their experiences will be an “improvement” over what others offer. When this does not happen, the levels of disappointment and respect fall deeper than if they had not seen your promise in the first place.

Unfulfilled expectations from slogans are much like “fake news,” as they become fake marketing promises that can kill a brand as quickly as fake news can a politician.

Take inventory of your customer service protocols and see just how well they align with your promises. Here are some tips:

  • Mystery shop your own brand.
  • Pay a friend to mystery shop and give the friend some tough questions or situations to pose to your staff.
  • Find out what your NPS score is. Do your own NPS survey and, if you’re a big brand, go see what SatMatrix and others list it as. Is your experience worthy of referring others or not?
  • Survey customers immediately upon purchase and ask them to evaluate their experience in their words.
  • Ask customers to rate their experience by the words you currently use. If you promise, “friendly,” “extraordinary” and “best in class,” how much do they agree with you?
  • Make employees feel like they matter to you and they will make customers feel like they matter to them. A simple, yet critical and often overlooked concept that costs almost nothing.

Actionable Takeaway: Define how you want customers to feel after every touchpoint with your brand. Create an experience protocol for all to follow that supports that outcome. Train your employees on how to deliver on your marketing promises, and make sure they are promises you can keep! Every day, every customer.

Direct Mail: Data Structure Really Matters

Many times, one key aspect of direct mail marketing is overlooked and that is the structure of your database. What information you put in each field can really make a difference when you process data through CASS, DPV and NCOA. The postal service has a set of expected fields for each type of processing and when your data does not match that structure, you will have issues with correct output from the software.

Many times, one key aspect of direct mail marketing is overlooked and that is the structure of your database. What information you put in each field can really make a difference when you process data through CASS, DPV and NCOA. The postal service has a set of expected fields for each type of processing and when your data does not match that structure, you will have issues with correct output from the software.

First and foremost, your data should be consistent within each field. If your data field is “company name,” then the only data found in the field is “company name.” Likewise for all other fields. If the information is not consistent, the coding programs cannot find the proper information which can cause them to code the record as invalid. This means it will cost you more money to mail it, as it will not be able to mail at automation postage rates. You can, of course, choose not to mail bad addresses, but it could have been a good address if the information were where it should be in the record. There is no reason to lose out on contacting a prospect or customer just because of your data structure.

You are welcome to have as much information in your database as you need. We always recommend keeping purchase history and any other information you collect to be used to target people to the right offers. You will just add that information into additional fields. Never add extra information to fields required by the USPS, it will be stripped off in the CASS/DPV process or it can cause the address to be found invalid. Create new fields to hold extra information.

So what does the post office require for processing with CASS and DPV?

  • Address
  • City
  • State
  • ZIP code

If you want the process to add information for full-service barcoding your mail service provider will need to add required blank fields to your data, they will be populated by the process. Once complete, your file will contain information on which addresses were found and which were coded as bad addresses. You may choose how you wish to deal with the bad ones.

What does the post office require for NCOA?

  • Name
  • Company
  • Address
  • City
  • State
  • ZIP code

You must have either a company name or a person’s name in order for NCOA to match. The verification process looks to see if that person or company is at that address. You can expect your processed data to come back to you with fields that code records as good, moved or moved, no address on file. You are then able to use the new addresses for the people who moved, as well as remove the bad ones.

So what other pitfalls are there in data structure? Many times, it is unrecognized characters that get pulled in by exporting lists from CRM software. The most common one are hard returns in fields, those need to be removed before data can be processed. There are others that crop up too, such as foreign characters. Each filed needs to consist of only letters or numbers. Commas and periods are okay, as well, but keep in mind the post office prefers no punctuation. The cleaner your data file is, the better results you will get when processing them for mailing. If you are at all concerned about your data structure, contact your mail service provider, they can help guide you.

Experience Design Benefits Greatly From Behavioral Data

Human-centered design thinking has influenced much of the way that companies think about user and customer experience, and for the better. Because customer experience is becoming an important vehicle through which brand propositions are communicated today, it is worth examining if the way we design customer experiences can be improved. Particularly, is there a way to better integrate data and analytics into design thinking?

Human-centered design thinking has influenced much of the way that companies think about user and customer experience, and for the better. Because customer experience is becoming an important vehicle through which brand propositions are communicated today, it is worth examining if the way we design customer experiences can be improved. Particularly, is there a way to better integrate data and analytics into design thinking?

A well-designed customer experience offers many benefits, such as:

  • increasing the productivity of users and service efficiency.
  • Making solutions easier to use and, therefore, reducing support costs
  • Increased accessibility and reducing discomfort and stress
  • Signature experiences that convey and re-enforce the brand proposition

In order to achieve these results, most experience design processes begin with deep empathy, which entails physically observing, interviewing and surveying customers to uncover unmet needs and pain points.

These methods often help uncover significant opportunities to improve the customer services. Just as often, however, they take companies down unprofitable journeys and fail to identify growth opportunities.

For example, Spirit airlines probably ignores every stated customer desire except price (in most cases), yet it has a very strong business model. Can you imagine the market research that says customers don’t care about on-time arrival, service or cabin comfort and want to be nickeled and dimed for every possible amenity? An examination of behavioral data, however, would show that there is a large market of travelers who consistently shop for the cheapest flight, regardless of service, brand and reputation, and Spirit has learned to cater to this segment very well.

In my view, most experience design projects fail to bring in behavioral data and resultingly miss the bigger opportunity. I have observed many customer experience projects that try desperately to empathize with the customer, but fail to examine if this is the customer they want and what their purchase and usage behaviors truly reveal.

Sometime back, my team and I were asked to identify key factors driving retention and renewal behavior among auto and home insurance customers. Certainly, survey-based feedback was helpful and identified areas of dissatisfaction, such as complicated billing, poor claims experiences and unexplained rate increases. Individual customer interviews yielded even more interesting satisfaction drivers, such as financial trust and need for honest advice. However, looking at behavioral data, such as the types of policies purchased, tenure of the policies and household makeup actually uncovered the deepest insights. Although this is now common knowledge in the insurance industry, customers who bundle auto and home policies are much less likely to switch. Therefore, most insurance carriers try to offer an Auto-Home discount. Other behaviorally observed factors, such as the level of coverage selected and signing up for auto pay are also significant predictors of retention. Surprisingly, none of these factors bubbled up directly in customer interviews or surveys. Furthermore, factors derived from the behavioral data explained 70 to 80 percent of the attrition in any given year.

Despite this example, it would be very wrong to assume that human-centered design principles do not work or that some of the methods employed to develop user/customer empathy are bunk. However, I would say that interviews and experience audits are only one source of customer insight; mining customer behavioral data is another powerful source of customer insights. A well-thought-out experience design should have the benefit of both.

Data-Centricity, Marketing Dashboards, AI, Transparency, Etc.

You’ll have to forgive me. Forces are conspiring — and it’s giving me a “deer in headlights” feeling. And I’m not alone.

You’ll have to forgive me. Forces are conspiring — and it’s giving me a “deer in headlights” feeling. And I’m not alone.

On the one hand, business organizations are set on data-driven transformation, according to The Winterberry Group’s “The Data-Centric Organization 2018” report, in partnership with the Data and Marketing Association and Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Data Center for Excellence. The report is an update of a previous study, so there is comparison data from 2017 to 2016 from which to spot trends.

The newest report, however, gives some pause on our collective march toward data fluency.

“A majority of marketers are rolling out strategies to support data-centricity … but relatively few say they’ve generated results,” the report concluded. Much of this report of scarcity is timing — nearly half say their strategy is being developed but not yet implemented. As a result, 12.3 percent of the most recent study respondents reported “strategy has been developed, implemented and is delivering results.”

Yet just a year ago, 28.6 percent reported favorably on the same question. Which begs the question, why the drop off? Did we go backward?

Perhaps not. Could it be that the more we (organizations) learn about data-centricity, the more we learn that there’s much more to learn? Think about it, it’s a question of confidence.

Conceptually, we may well understand that a “full view of the customer” is required to enable “customer-focused” business activities. This simple premise from the earliest days of (customer relationship management) CRM presents a whole new set of challenges when considering the volume, velocity and variability of “big data,” mobile data, social data, location data, transaction data, cross-device data and the algorithms that seek to create relevance and drive business and media decisions. Prior to integration, all this data needs to be staged, parsed, cleansed to protect against “garbage-in, garbage-out” outcomes. Enter the forest. The CMO had best hold a compass with the chief technology/information officer.

Add in the insatiable demand for analytics know-how — the “plastics” of our day — where we have tremendous demand, supplemented by artificial intelligence tools that some may or may not understand quite yet, and wow, it’s a recipe for uncertainty. Just what will the marketing dashboard of the future look like?

And we haven’t even talked about policy and ethics considerations: fraud prevention, transparency, governance, security, permissions, preferences and restrictive global regulatory regimes (General Data Protection Regulation and ePrivacy Regulation).

Yet what’s enduring in the data-centric study is industry’s determination to get it right: 44.4 percent of respondents expect that their organization will be “extremely data-centric” by 2019 (two years’ time from the taking of the survey). Truly, what choice do we have but to learn the data to serve the customer?

As the study’s authors report in part, “Experience=Awareness.” It’s easier (and dangerous) to shrug off the impacts of data centricity’s demands, when you’re still at the starting line. Take a few steps, and lo and behold, the complexities and intricacies take focus.

Next post, we’ll examine some study recommendations – a helpful look at people, platforms, partners and process. Awareness may not help a deer in time, but thankfully we can learn from our practice.