Hello, Complaint Department? My Friends Are Listening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Meanness of Strangers

The link between sales and marketing is undeniable. So I think it’s time that working adults accept that their communications behavior—whether in email, on the phone or online—is a direct reflection of the brand they’re representing. And if you’re rude to me, I don’t want to do business with you—ever. I first noticed bad behavior in an email

The link between sales and marketing is undeniable. So I think it’s time that working adults accept that their communications behavior—whether in email, on the phone or online—is a direct reflection of the brand they’re representing. And if you’re rude to me, I don’t want to do business with you—ever.

I first noticed bad behavior in an email. It was from a person I didn’t know, so I didn’t feel compelled to open it or read it. And, if I did, I certainly didn’t feel that I had to acknowledge receipt by responding, even to express my disinterest in the product/service.

I guess I deleted his emails from my in-box several times, because his fifth attempt got a little contemptuous.

“I made you a pretty incredible offer on a really good video 3 or 4 times over the past
couple of months, but you never responded …” he complained, “I NEED TO HEAR BACK FROM YOU NOW.” (Yes, it was all in caps).

I admit I hit the “Delete” button without a moment’s hesitation. I resented being shouted at by this stranger. And needless to say, if I needed to produce a really good video, this would NOT be my go-to guy.

The next event was a little more irksome. I was interested in a LinkedIn Discussion Group topic on the World’s most awarded print ad. By the time I joined the discussion, 55 people had already commented before me, and the comments had turned to the relationship between ad creativity and sales. Participants were musing as to whether great creative (as defined by all the awards it won) should be considered great if it doesn’t generate sales for the product.

As an ambassador for the DMA’s Echo Awards, I chimed in that the Echo Awards celebrate the combination of strategy, creative and results. And in my book, it’s the most meaningful award because it acknowledges the difficult and creatively brilliant ways marketing folks are able to position a product in a meaningful way that drives measurable results. I thought it was a fairly innocuous comment, but apparently not.

One subscriber, who seemed to delight in posting negative comments throughout the discussion thread, turned his sights on me. “So … all other award shows worldwide are not ‘meaningful.’ Congratulations. You’ve just offended practically every award-winning creative on the planet. Good luck with that.”

While I have pretty thick skin, his slap across my face hurt—and considering my lighthearted comment, I thought he was way out of line. Looking at his LinkedIn profile, this guy was a freelancer … and certainly one I’ll avoid in the future.

But the worst offenders seem to be those that comment on blogs. It’s easy to log in and add a post to nearly every blog on the web, including this one. But why do the nastiest comments always come from those who log in anonymously? I can understand that you may disagree with me, or think my post irrelevant or incompetent. But if you don’t have anything nice to say, do you get a lot of satisfaction from adding a cranky comment anonymously?

We know that email has created a passive aggressive form of communication. After all, it’s easy to write a snide remark and hit “send” without having to confront the recipient face-to-face. The difference is, when you send me an email, I know who you are. I can pick up the phone and respond … or run into you at a conference or social event. Net-net, we can seek to resolve our differences, or at least have a civil discussion about them.

But an anonymous, negative post always strikes me as a coward’s way out. As a result, I don’t respond with a follow-up comment … and I’m always grateful when one of my readers’ leaps to my defense.

So go ahead and let me know what you think about this blog post. And don’t be afraid to let all the readers know who you are.

Winner of the 2012 Presidential Election: Data

Now that the contentious 2012 election has finally ended, we get a chance to look back and assess what happened and why. Regardless of who you voted for, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that the real winner of the 2012 election was data.

Now that the contentious 2012 election has finally ended, we get a chance to look back and assess what happened and why. Regardless of who you voted for, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that the real winner of the 2012 election was data.

For the first time in history, this election demonstrated the power of using analytics and numbers crunching for politics. What I find most remarkable is the rapid evolution of this change. If you look back just a few years ago, Karl Rove was widely regarded as the political mastermind of the universe. Rove’s primary innovation was the use of highly targeted direct mail campaigns to get out the evangelical and rural vote to win the 2004 election for George W. Bush. Fast-forward a few short years, and not only did Rove’s candidate lose, but the master strategist was reduced to challenging his network’s numbers geeks live on the air, only to be rebuffed.

In every way, the old guard was bested by a new generation of numbers crunchers, nerds and data geeks who leveraged data science, analytics, predictive modeling and a highly sophisticated online marketing campaign to poll, raise money and get out the vote in an unprecedented manner.

On the subject of polling, I was intrigued by Nate Silver’s incredibly accurate FiveThirtyEight blog that used a sophisticated system to synthesize dozens of national polls in a rolling average to predict the actual election results. In the run-up to the election, he even received a lot of flak from various pundits who claimed he was wrong basing on their perception on voter “enthusiasm,” “momentum” and other non-scientific observations. At the end of the day, however, data won out over hot air and punditry big time. Silver’s final tally was absolutely dead on, crushing most other national polls by a wide margin.

I especially love his Nov. 10 post in which Silver analyzes the various polls and shows which ones fared the best and which ones weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. It’s shocking to see that the Gallup Poll—in many people’s mind the oldest and most trusted name in polling—was skewed Republican by a whopping 7.2 points when averaged across all 11 of their polls. Ouch. For an organization that specializes in polling, their long-term viability must be called into question at this point.

One thing I find highly interesting when looking at the various poll results is that when you examine their methodologies, it’s not too surprising that Gallup fell flat on its face, relying on live phone surveys as the primary polling method. When considering that many young, urban and minority voters don’t have a landline and only have a cellphone, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude any poll that doesn’t include a large number of cellphones in its cohort is going to skew wildly Republican … which is exactly what happened to Gallup, Rasmussen and several other prominent national polls.

Turning to the Obama campaign’s incredible Get Out The Vote (GOTV) machine that turned out more people in more places than anyone could have ever predicted, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that for data-driven marketers, the 2012 U.S. election victory was a watershed moment in history.

According to a recent article in Time titled “Inside the Secret World of the Data Crunchers Who Helped Obama Win,” the secret sauce behind Obama’s big win was a massive data effort that helped him raise $1 billion, remade the process of targeting TV ads, and created detailed models of swing-state voters that could be used to increase the effectiveness of everything from phone calls and door-knocks to direct mailings and social media.

What’s especially interesting is that, similarly to a tech company, Obama’s campaign actually had a large in-house team of geeks, data scientists and online marketers. Composed of elite and senior tech talent from Twitter, Google, Facebook, Craigslist and Quora, the program enabled the campaign to turn out more volunteers and donors than it had in 2008, mostly by making it it simpler and easier for anyone to engage with the President’s reelection effort. If you’d like to read more about it, there’s a great article recently published in The Atlantic titled “When the Nerds Go Marching In” that describes the initiative in great detail.

Well, looks like I’m out of space. One thing’s for sure though, I’m going to be very interested to see what happens in coming elections as these practices become more mainstream and the underlying techniques are further refined.

If you have any observations about the use of data and analytics in the election you’d like to share, please let me know in your comments.

—Rio

11 Rules For Mobile Marketing Success

If you haven’t heard, a lot of people are talking about mobile. It’s mostly marketers doing the talking, but that’s because the businesses that they’ve helped have their heads down implementing mobile initiatives or at least started educating themselves to better understand how mobile will fit into their marketing mix.

If you haven’t heard, a lot of people are talking about mobile. It’s mostly marketers doing the talking, but that’s because the businesses that they’ve helped have their heads down implementing mobile initiatives or at least started educating themselves to better understand how mobile will fit into their marketing mix.

Now I could go dive into some juicy stats, like how mobile Internet usage will overtake that of desktop by 2014, or that 74 percent of consumers will wait only five seconds for Web pages to load on their mobile devices before abandoning sites. We could even discuss the 46 percent of consumers who are unlikely to return to your mobile site if it didn’t work properly during their last visit, but I’m not going to do that right now. 😉

After interviewing some of the top mobile specialists and brands that strategically use mobile to grow their businesses, I’ve noticed some recurring trends. If you want to use mobile and actually see results that create an impact on your business you can follow these rules:

1. Know your customer. You should create at least three customer personas to identify exactly who your audience is and each communication should be targeted to one of those users. You should aim to give these personas a name, know what their wants and desires are, what their frustrations are, etc. Are they smartphone users or might they have feature phones?

Make sure before crafting your messaging that you know who you’re talking to and how they’d like to keep in touch with you. Is it via email, SMS or possibly a phone call? You need cater to your specific customers or else you’ll be communicating to nobody.

2. Solve a problem. The best use of mobile comes when it solves a problem for someone, whether that be a customer, an employee or even just a problem within your business. Once you’ve identified the problem, ask yourself, “Can mobile solve it?” For example, can mobile possibly eliminate a once time-sucking, paper-pushing task and save time?

If your customers tend not to redeem direct mail coupons, maybe you can deliver offers right to their phone via SMS in order to drive traffic to your establishment during slower hours.

3. Only use mobile if it adds value. Is mobile the best solution? I love mobile, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not always the answer. Too many businesses get caught using mobile for mobile’s sake. Make sure your mobile strategy solves a problem, ultimately adding value to your customer’s life.

4. Don’t chase shiny objects. This is my favorite. Mobile technology is advancing super fast that it’s hard to keep up. It can be overwhelming, I know. People are talking about NFC (Near Field Communication, Augmented Reality, the mobile wallet etc.)

BUT, there is a reason that Coca-Cola allocates 70 percent of its mobile budget toward SMS. Your mobile initiative should be about efficiency NOT shiny objects. Make sure you can differentiate.

Oh, and did you notice that the iPhone 5 doesn’t have an NFC chip? There is a reason Apple chose not to add that feature this time around, but that’s a post for another time. 😉

5. Execute from start through finish: Ideas are great, but it always comes down to execution. Make sure you cover all touchpoints for the mobile component of your program. The most common mistake is driving customers to a non-mobile friendly website.

Your customers may end up on your site from an email, social feed, a QR code, an SMS or a mobile search. Make sure their experience is friendly and helpful, no matter what screen they’re on.

6. Simple is Sexy: Due to the pace of mobile innovation, sometimes things get complicated. Do everything in your power to make your mobile initiative easy to understand and participate in. Make sure you:

  • Use a clear call to action. Most failed campaigns bury the CTA.
  • Limit their options. Focus on your ONE objective then go from there.
  • Don’t make consumers jump through hoops. Does it take five steps to receive the value? Don’t do that. Deliver value immediately.

7. Identify how you’ll measure success. Again, a frequent mistake. You’ll never know if you were successful unless you have a base for success. Is it opt-ins, sales, scans, etc.? You get the point.

There is no way to tell where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Establish criteria for success and monitor them during and after your campaign.

8. Deliver value to your customers: They are taking the time to engage with you on the most personal device they own. Make it worth their while.

9. Mobile won’t save your business: Mobile is just a piece of the puzzle. When viewed as a channel on its own, you’ll likely fail. Look at is a part of the whole and you’ll be in a position for success.

10. Look for ways to enhance offline experiences: Mobile places super nicely with other channels. In fact, mobile is one of the most dependent and complementary channels at the same time. Think about how mobile can give legs to your other programs.

Mobile offers an opportunity to take offline, once non-interactive experiences, online with a chance to extend the conversation.

11. Think mobile first: “Mobile first” is a hot topic right now around designing sites that are responsive toward a user’s device and intent. Mobile first goes beyond just your site to all of your points of engagement between you and a customer.

This is unfortunately hard for organizations that are uber-traditional. For those in that boat, I recommend asking yourself when planning any initiative, “What happens if they experience this program from their phone? What does that look like?” Figure it out and accommodate the mobile user.

If you can follow these 11 rules when adding mobile to your strategy you’ll be off to the best possible start and eliminate your odds of being featured on one of the many blogs that cover all the failures in mobile. 😉 You don’t want that to be you now, do you?

Mobility, the World of Senses and Where We Go From Here

It’s difficult to explain an experience like the MMA CEO/CMO summit in words. It takes all of the senses to truly appreciate the opportunity. However, what can be shared is the knowledge that was imparted. Marketers, publishers, technologists, futurists and researches shared their thoughts and visions as to how we got here, exactly where we are and where we might be going with the world, mobility and the role of marketing.

There’s a rich and enticing world around us. When and wherever we are, there’s something to see, hear, taste and touch. In other words, there’s something for us to sense. When we sense something, what happens next? We take the input from our senses in order to make informed decisions to determine our next actions and reactions to what’s around.

Last month, my senses were bombarded with rich and exciting input while attending the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA) first ever MMA CEO/CMO Summit in the Dominican Republic in July.

First of all, you know you’re in the right place when you find yourself in the proximity of over 150 of the leading executives in the mobile marketing industry. I mean, how much more fun can life get? However, when you find yourself surrounded not only by great people, but also at a venue like the Casa De Campo (a plush resort surrounded by crystal clear ocean, white beaches and jungles), with impressive food and entertainment (including donkey polo, golf, swimming, dancing and more), as well as two days of thought provoking presentations and roundtables you know you’re in for something special, even if you can’t take it all in due to sensory overload. Sadly, I missed the donkey polo, but I heard that it was great fun.

It’s difficult to explain an experience like the MMA CEO/CMO summit in words. It takes all of the senses to truly appreciate the opportunity. However, what can be shared is the knowledge that was imparted. Marketers, publishers, technologists, futurists and researches shared their thoughts and visions as to how we got here, exactly where we are and where we might be going with the world, mobility and the role of marketing. For example,

• Scott Harrison, founder and president of Charity:Water showed us how a small group of people can change the world and improve the life of millions by helping them tap fresh water that exists right under their feet.
• Barry Judge, CMO of Best Buy and Mike Kelly, CEO and president of The Weather Channel talked separately and both explained how and why mobile is playing a central role in their 360-degree consumer engagements strategies.
• Nicholas Wallen from MIT Mobile Experience Laboratory shared how it’s creating hybrid cities and are connecting people, places and information.
• Jessica Kahn from Disney’s Tapulous shared the “nine things that worked,” covering the nine things that helped Tapulous become one of the leading mobile gaming platforms with over a billion games played.

The above presentations and more (click here to download a few) were just the beginning. Another speaker, Fabian Hemmert, PhD candidate at the Design Research Lab, Berlin University of the Arts, showed us even more. Mobile devices and their sensors — the camera, gyroscopes, accelerometers and more — are becoming an extension of our own sensory capabilities, such as the ability to see the world and commerce differently though augmented reality (check out the iButterly YouTube video), but this is just the start.

As Hemmert’s work points out, by adding pressure, moisture sensors and using existing sensors in new ways, entirely new experiences through mobile are possible. Just think, you can squeeze your phone and virtually shake someone’s hand, or give your phone a quick peck and blow someone a kiss. Who would have thought? See Hemmert in action on Ted.

Also, a few weeks following the summit I was fortunate enough to be able to meet Chander Chawla, director and general manager, personal mobile devices at National Semiconductor. Chawla shared what he called “software-enabled hardware” that his team is experimenting with. For instance, by extending and exposing a simple UV light sensor off a chip that’s present in most phones, the phone can monitor the level of UV exposure and alert you to put on sun screen. You can also tweak how sound waves are generated. By adding a few additional speakers you can take a traditional flat sounding device and turn it into a surround sound experience like none other. Finally, Chawla is experimenting with new visual display experiences that latterly add a new spectrum of color that I did not know existed.

If you weren’t able to attend the summit this year, I encourage you to visit the MMA events website and download the presentations. I also encourage you to consider attending next year, or any of the numerous mobile and marketing gatherings that are happening throughout the industry such as Mobile Monday’s, Mobile Marketing Week in New York (being put on by Mobile Marketer), Advertising Week, CTIA Entertainment, MMA LA Forum, ANA Annual event and so many others. I’m sure you won’t be able to make them all, but there’s really nothing like being there in person to meet and exchange ideas with the people around you and to fully embrace and stimulate your senses.

The Strategic Imperative of Understanding Mobile in 2011 and Beyond

There aren’t many industries with a compound annual growth rate of nearly 57 percent, especially in the midst of the worst recession in generations. But that’s one measure of the success of mobile advertising, which has moved out of brands’ and agencies’ research and development budgets and into their mainstream spending.

There aren’t many industries with a compound annual growth rate of nearly 57 percent, especially in the midst of the worst recession in generations. But that’s one measure of the success of mobile advertising, which has moved out of brands’ and agencies’ research and development budgets and into their mainstream spending.

Take local mobile advertising, which consists of ads that are related to a user’s location. In 2009, the U.S. market for local mobile advertising was worth $213 million, according to BIA/Kelsey, a consultancy firm. Various outlets are predicting that revenues will top $2 billion by 2014.

Advertisers are spending more on the mobile channel because they understand the impact not just on their advertising, but on their businesses in general. That understanding comes from both the growing number of success stories and independent research that quantifies the mobile channel’s reach and effectiveness.

An April 2010 Mobile Marketing Association (MMA)/Luth Research survey found that nearly one in four U.S. adult consumers use mobile location services. Nearly half of those who noticed any ads while using those services took at least some action, indicating that consumers respond well to ads via location-based services. 


What are next year’s opportunities?
This research is noteworthy because it highlights some of the bigger mobile opportunities for brands and marketers in 2011 and beyond. The mobile channel’s inherent location capabilities, for example, coupled with high user awareness of those capabilities, provide new opportunities to deliver mobile coupons when consumers are literally in position to make a purchase.

Because cell phones are something that most consumers carry with them at all times, these devices also can be used to “mobile-enable” traditional media such as print, broadcast and billboards. For example, by adding a common short code (or QR code) to an ad, marketers can capitalize on consumer interest in their products or services by immediately delivering information, e-coupons or enabling a purchase on the spot.

This isn’t pie-in-the-sky forecasting, either. A May 2010 MMA/Luth Research survey found that approximately one in five U.S. adult mobile phone owners have used their cell phone for mobile commerce in the past month.

All of these factors highlight another, overarching opportunity: The mobile channel has evolved beyond serving as only a marketing tool. It’s now a highly effective way to facilitate sales transactions, provide customer care, foster brand loyalty and solicit customer feedback. No wonder that U.S. advertisers and agencies plan to increase their mobile spending 124 percent, to more than $5.4 billion, by the end of 2011.

Remember Skype?

Skype, the the internet telephone service provider that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet, has been know for a some very creative VOiP applications over the years.

Skype, the internet telephone service provider that allows users to make phone calls over the web, has been known for some very creative VoIP applications over the years. But one thing it’s not been known for is its ability to be an advertising vehicle for marketers.

Up until now, that is. Last week, Skype introduced a pay-per-call advertising service, Click & Call, that turns phone numbers into little ads, similar to pay-per-click search ads, for the 560 million Skype users.

Here’s how it works: When Skype users click on the blue-highlighted phone numbers anywhere an advertiser’s phone number is listed on the web, Skype’s software is launched and the caller is connected to the company for free. As with paid search ads on search engines, businesses set monthly budgets and pay Skype based on the volume of calls they receive.

Marchex, a provider of click-to-call products and services, is Skype’s partner on the service and will share in the revenue. Marchex is also setting prices, providing analytics for the service and offering it to third-party resellers. Marchex says the service already has more than 20,000 customers.

If you’re an advertiser looking for reach (and who isn’t?), Skype’s nearly 600 million users could be very appealing to you. Other benefits of the program, in my opinion, are the fact that you only have to pay for the calls made to your business; you can set your own budget; and you can closely track which calls at which times make your phone ring.

What do you think? Let us know by commenting below.