If It’s Called Customer Experience, Why is it All About the Company?

_HY_7338RWhile companies clamor to get their share of revenue from new and existing customers, the delta between what brands say they do for customers and what actually happens has never been larger. Perhaps it’s because of stats like: 90% of executives say that customer experience is central to their strategies, but a whopping 86% don’t expect to see a significant uplift in business results from it. See the math problem here? Too much company-centered thinking and not enough customer-centric business management.

To get more insight on this disconnect, I sat down with Lynn Hunsaker, a customer experience expert who helps companies love and be loved by their customers, through her firm, ClearAction. She should know a thing or two about this topic—she’s directed customer experience programs for 25 years with leadership roles at Fortune 500 companies.

Q: What are the biggest customer experience issues are these days?

A: The first problem is transparency—customers see behind the company’s motives—If there’s a gap between what they’re saying and what they’re doing, it’s harmful to the relationship.

The other big issue is that companies need to get it right the first time— as in don’t roll-out a product prematurely and don’t have surprises in your processes and policies. Brands with the best customer experience or service like Zappos, REI, Trader Joes, Nordstrom, Ritz Carlton, Adobe, Boeing, and American Express—they pay attention to their customers first and themselves second. Whether it’s B2C or B2B it makes no difference, the focus is on the customer, and that’s what matters.

Q: When companies don’t get it right, customers are taking to social these days to gripe about it and get action.

A: Yes, but “social media” tends to be rigidly defined as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other popular platforms. It should also includes online communities of other types, including online rating systems like Yelp, TripAdvisor, just to name just a few. In fact, the ratings mentality now permeates the psyche of every generation, from Millennials to Baby Boomers, empowering them to critique brands and be forthcoming with their opinions. Ultiimately, though, what tends to happen with social media complaints is that companies try to resolve these very public criticisms by responding to it at a micro level.

Q: What does “micro level” problem solving in customer experience mean?

A: Companies resolve issues one customer at a time, one service rep at a time, or within a single department at a time—a quick fix and then move on to other priorities. If you really want to make a difference for all customers and for your company’s revenue and profit growth, prevent issues from happening again altogether. That usually requires departments to work together to resolve the root causes of issues—that’s harder and takes longer, but it’s what’s needed to build trust that earns loyalty.

Another example of micro response to customers: when a customer complains on Twitter, it apologizes and tweets out the happy news to counteract the bad press caused on social media. Sure, it may appear that the problem is solved, but it’s really just a case by case response and a Band-Aid for a bigger problem. And when this “resolution” is over-the-top, like giving six movie complimentary passes to apologize for the theater snafu of two people, it really just masks an attempt to generate positive word-of-mouth. Again it’s about the company, not the customer.

Q: So are customer surveys just a waste of time then?

A: Brands tend to use customer surveys as a barometer or a report card, hopefully with good news for their public relations department or to increase their Net Promoter ratings, showing how many customers would “recommend” the company.

When a service rep or sales person tells a customer that a survey answer other than “highly satisfied” could ruin their bonus or performance assessment, yes, a survey is a waste of time and money for customers and the company. This situation happens because employees are penalized or rewarded too heavily on customer behavior instead of monitoring their own behavior internally.

Instead of looking at surveys as a one-by-one solution opportunity or a means to show how awesome your company is, you can get more value by looking for patterns in it, as well as in other sources of feedback, like complaints on the 800 number, social media, or customer anecdotes—it’s really a collage of information that matters. These patterns help companies elevate the response to a macro-level, and that’s ultimately the goal. When you connect the feedback dots, you make things better for all customers, not just one at a time.

Q: Can companies turn their customer experience reputation around?

A: Absolutely. An example is Suntrust Bank, who saw the financial meltdown in 2008 as an opportunity to see how they could rebuild trust with their customers. One of the executives would often ask in meetings: “Are we deciding on this because we’ve been bankers for so many years, or because customers told us?” This question became a habit for managers across the company, and changed their decision-making to be customer-focused. This is the kind of habit more brands need to adopt.

Q: Sounds like there is hope. What do you see ahead for 2015?

A: Yes and no. Brands will be pushing harder on the customer experience manager to show business results. They’ll try to do this through more surveys, customer journey maps, social media, content marketing, customer engagement events and campaigns, and loyalty programs. Some companies, though, will disband their investment in customer experience altogether, getting rid of entire departments. For a lot of companies, it’s going to be business as usual mantra, with the mismatch between what the company says and what customers experience is.

Thankfully, there is that small group of companies—which is maybe a good thing since it’s easier to stand out from the crowd—that are going to step back and ask themselves: is what we’re doing more about us or customers? These companies will persistently seek patterns to resolve issues from happening again. They’ll earn trust and down the line business results by improving ease-of-doing-business for customers. In other words: it will be about the person buying their products, not the company, and that is what customer experience management is all about.

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What Marketers Need to Know From Ad:Tech San Francisco

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Early in my career as an advertising manager at a software company, we used a fax machine to place ad insertion orders. Guess what? Those are still in use at many companies, according to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who delivered the opening keynote last week at ad:techSF. It was just one of many inflection points for an industry that is rolling in dough but still playing catch-up with the pace of the world. And then there was the appearance of P.Diddy/Puff Daddy/whatever he’s calling himself today… (but we’ll save that for the end).

The Advertising Industry is Stronger Than Ever (But Still Inefficient) 

To begin with, the number of exhibitors at ad:techSF nearly doubled this year from 2013, a clear sign of growth in the digital ad space (worrisome though on how many companies had the words “spy” or “facial recognition” staring back at me from booth graphics).

eMarketer kicked off the event with some industry stats: Advertising is anticipated to be a $50B business in 2014—that’s a whole lotta media buys. And another huge growth spurt for the current media darling: native advertising: 73% of all publications have adopted some sort branded/sponsored content program. This popular method of advertising has ignited the flailing publishing industry with a model that looks here to stay (learn more about sponsored content here). Despite all the good news, manual inefficiencies still plague the industry (like the aforementioned faxed insertion orders), flying in the face of the digital world’s frenetic pace. Which leads to my next takeaway…

Advertising Needs Better Automation With the ‘Human Touch’

Convergence. Omni channel. Multi platforms. Cross screen. Second screen. Call it what you will, but they all mean basically the same thing—the all-on digital consumer viewing ads on multiple devices. Your potential customers might see an ad on TV and switch to a tablet, meanwhile someone else is viewing it on their phone. The problem is that media buys are transacted in silos so there are not accurate measures of ad performance. And purchasing inventory in separate buckets doesn’t allow for immediate insights into consumer buying  patterns either. Yes, there is real-time bidding but that doesn’t resolve the complex cycle to target, purchase, and analyze an ad campaign’s results in concert, and quickly. This has become a huge thorn in the ad industry’s side at a time of huge growth.

One solution is the potential of “one-stop shopping” for all of these cross-platform buys, but that too has a hitch: Armstrong argues that while there needs to be “programmatic advertising“, the best media buying decisions can only occur with “mechanization”—the human+machine working together. That means computing automation can go so far, but doesn’t have the human brainpower to soak in rich data and make smart decisions on the fly to test or purchase across platforms quickly, or even switch the ad plan altogether. No surprise: AOL will be launching a one-stop solution later this year, and I’m sure other media conglomerates and start ups alike will introduce new methods to attempt to conquer this issue. Either way, the ad industry is clearly thinking about the future and taking steps to resolve the issues.

The Sales Funnel is Disrupted by Digital and Mobile

With the all-on consumer, the traditional sales funnel has become more chaotic and unpredictable for brands and media buyers to navigate. Gone are the straightforward days of TV, print, and radio buys. Cross-platform viewing and buying continues to create disarray to the familiar consumer purchasing process. The Zero Moment of Truth when a person decides to pull the (sales) trigger can no longer be pinpointed in the classic linear path of awareness-interest-intention-purchase. To witness: People spend more time on their computing devices than watching traditional TV in their living rooms (right now the difference is about 2 minutes; in 2018, digital consumption is expected to surpass TV altogether). Add to that, mobile is poised to overtake desktop computers and exceed its usage by 2016. This also underscores the need to have an advertising “central command” to respond to buyers’ behavior quickly.

The Rise of Real-Time Marketing (and it’s Free)

Real-time bidding isn’t the only buzzword these days. Real-time social selling is all the rage too. One of ad:techSF’s smartest and most engaging keynoters was Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, who shared “secrets” of his company’s success in social marketing (though it appeared he was gently coerced into changing the title of his presentation for effect). Holmes gave examples of how brands can get in on the story of the moment (for no investment) by taking a nimble approach to their content marketing, as when Hootsuite released its version of the Harlem Shake immediately after the original went viral. It included both office staff and the adorable Hootsuite owl mascot (“Be the show, not the commercial”). Holmes also pointed out how companies can amplify and piggy back on an existing campaign, like the JCPenny #tweetingwithmittens, which won the Superbowl ad race with its social media stunt and enabled other brands to get in on the action (ironic given JCPenney’s poor performance off the social media stage, but that’s another story). Holmes also called for company marketing departments to build up their “newsrooms” (yes, folks, this is part of the “branded journalism” movement, it’s a real thing). And if you’re going to tell that story, do it, in Holmes’ words, with “heart.”

The Final Lesson: P.Diddy’s “Keynote” and What Not To Do

This one is easy (unfortunately): 1-Don’t show up 30 minutes late. It’s rude and disrespectful to your audience. 2-It’s best to know what conference you’re attending and why you’re there (side note: might not to tell the audience that you’re unaware of both). 3-Even if you’re asked lame questions by the interviewer, try to respond with answers that might make sense to the audience instead of vague, unrelated statements. 4-Product placement is OK but drinking and mentioning your alcohol-infused “product” the entire time? Not OK. 5-Swearing every other word (even for me, who appreciates some good sailor talk) does not add to your credibility, likability, or intelligence quotient. If you want to get the full effect of the uncomfortable and perplexed vibe in the room, check out the live tweets. 

But back to the good news: the state of the advertising industry has never been stronger, despite the challenges of yesterday’s inefficiencies and today’s complex media buys. The rise of the digital, always-connected consumer leaves a wide open space for brands and media buyers to take advantage of new opportunities to reach and engage them where they are, all the time, and in creative ways. It also means the methods ad purchases are constructed, measured, and responded to will require more sophisticated, converging levels of automation—but also knowing where those human lines should intersect. How that happens, we might not know until next year’s ad:techSF, but undoubtedly a bevy of ad revenue will provide breadcrumbs along the path.

Image: Hotel Marketing Strategies

Humor Me: Advertisers Go to Extremes to Break Through Web Clutter

prank_golf_1988When I temped at Sun Microsystems in 1988, I worked as a lowly records clerk in the same building as CEO Scott McNealy. April Fools’ Day was always a big holiday at Sun. In fact that year, McNealy’s and another executive’s office were transformed to a complete one-hole, par four golf course, replete with a tee area, sand traps, water hazard with cherub fountain, golf carts, ball washer and bench—but not too many people knew about it outside the company since it was before the explosion of the Internet. If that were today, you can bet there would be YouTube videos gone viral, social media shares, pic retweets, and Facebook “likes” and comments – now it’s remembered with a simple web page archives of Sun April Fools Day jokes.

Times have changed a lot since that day at Sun, but April Fools’ Day pranks are still a staple in many cultures. The difference now is that a worldwide online audience expects über-enterainment with a daily diet of  funny cat videos, humor web sites, and mini-mockumentaries. That’s why it was only a matter of time before brands took notice and started serving up funny on April Fools’ Day too.scope bacon

In fact, the past few years has seen an Olympic-size competition to see which brand can deliver the biggest-budget, cleverest, and over-the top internet joke—usually at their own expense or industry’s peril—and with that, a ton of unpaid publicity.

Now it seems that a growing number of companies are embracing this snarky humor as part of their general advertising strategy.  “Prankvertising”  as its known or “pranks on steroids” and branded entertainment, are now part of this trend: to be as funny as possible, get the most attention, and Internet buzz. Some prankvertising stunts have even provoked lawsuits from its victims.

So why did advertisers start spending so much time and effort poking fun at themselves, other brands, and even their customers and prospects?

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Rise in Consumer Power Center Stage at NMX


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Fresh off the heels of New Media Expo (NMX) in Las Vegas, a blogging conference that has grown into an all-inclusive social media extravaganza, I thought my brain would explode from all the things I learned (you’re welcome for the visual). But now the mish-mash of thoughts, concepts and unexplainable words has miraculously gelled into some cohesive language. Here are the top takeaways for me that not only reinforce social media’s growing role, but reveal a tilting of power to consumers like never before.

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Corporate Marketing Commandments for 2013

Since the world didn’t end on December 21, it is appropriate to bow down to our gods and beg forgiveness for some of the most egregious marketing sins of 2012. We’ve been given a second chance so now we need to follow some rules:

Thou Shalt Not Degrade Thine Own Brandinstagram-facebook

Listen up Netflix, aka the former Quikster (for a nanosecond); and Instagram, aka Facebook: Brand equity is the richest gold you can have—and yours has been on a downward trajectory. When people love and believe in you, it’s much easier to forgive. But when you keep screwing up, consumers lose not only their patience but their loyalty. For Netflix it’s been the gift that keeps on giving, and on Christmas Eve it was a streaming outage that stretched across the U.S. The company blamed Amazon Web Services, but customers don’t care about who supplies the power, only that Netflix was down—yet another PR bomb. And Instagram’s hipster, indie vibe has been catching heat due to its purchase by the behemoth Facebook as well as a 24-hour about-face on terms of use for photos. They’ve outraged their customers multiple times now, so patience will be wearing thin for 2013.

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Four LinkedIn Fails: Fix These Features Before Adding New Ones

In my last blog, I wrote about how great LinkedIn is—and I stand by that. It is by far the best online business networking tool out there and has added many useful capabilities in 2012. Taking its cue from the best of social media and sporting a more user-friendly interface and page design, LinkedIn is on a roll. But as with everything, there is always room for improvement. Here are four annoying features LinkedIn should fix before continuing to add new products.

#1 Better Activity Notification System: From the beginning, LinkedIn’s notification system for recommendations, invitations to connect, or anything else is inordinately slow, giving a digital meaning to the phrase “snail mail.” Sometimes hours or days later I will receive an email about something I saw or had already done. I’m starting to wonder if they are using AOL mail servers. LinkedIn recently added a “Notifications” function on the home activity page so, when logged in, you can see updates (think Facebook red)—but even that feature has its quirks. Often after I view a new notification, it will still show up as new the next time I log in. Let’s get it right, people.

Impact: To be so s-l-o-w or unreliable turns off current members and won’t attract new folks, plus it’s not keeping pace with LinkedIn’s other improvements.

#2 Banish Free Anonymous Profile Viewing Privileges: As a non-paying LinkedIn member, I am entitled to see the names of up to five people who have viewed my profile each time I log in. But guess what? I don’t always see who they are: You can be anonymous when you view a profile or merely “Someone in X industry.” Is it a potential client? Cyber stalker? The Facebook and Twitter models allow you to visit a profile page without the person knowing. Ignorance is bliss in this case. I consider it OK to allow LinkedIn members to be “anonymous,” but only as part of the upgraded service. No pay, no anonymity. Conversely, when you have a paid subscription, you get to see everyone who has viewed your profile.

Impact: Seeing “A LinkedIn Member” view my profile (which used to be called “Anonymous LinkedIn Member,” which sounded even more weird) gives me the creeps. We have a right to know who is checking us out, or else don’t bother to tell us that someone is looking.

#3 Better Target Practice on Jobs and Groups: I could guess how LinkedIn’s algorithm works in order to inform me of who I might know, by connecting the dots with people who are 2nd and 3rd connections, but with Jobs and Groups it seems the system is out to lunch, or even drinks. Potential jobs that LinkedIn sends my way should be based on criteria such as my industry, location, etc. Too often, however, the jobs are geo-incorrect or just out of left field. Same with Groups. I’m still flummoxed by the continual recommendation to join the Florida Communication Professionals group (hmm…maybe someone in that group looked at my profile anonymously).

Impact: It is a waste of time for LinkedIn to suggest jobs or anything else that is not relevant to our careers, and reflects poorly given all the rich data that LinkedIn has on users.

#4 Better Customization of Settings As with other social media, LinkedIn allows you to adjust settings such as privacy, but doesn’t allow customization of specific features. For instance, on your Activity Broadcast, it’s either all “On” or all “Off.” You’re stuck between no updates and being a potential over-poster. What if I want people to see who I am connected to, but not which companies I’m following? What if I want to post updates to Groups but not on the Activity Update? These are not options in the current system.

Impact: In an area as sensitive as career. where people are job-hunting and developing their professional and personal brand, these options should be available to allow users the most flexible options for presenting themselves.

So that’s my list of fixin’s. None of them are deal-breakers, but all of them have been noticed—some for a while now. I look forward to the new upgrades and enhancements that LinkedIn has in the works, but first let’s repair what’s already broken.