September 22, 2014

Customer-Obsessed Service

Social media has pushed customer service to the forefront for many organizations. Responses are often faster in social media than they are in traditional service channels, since social media makes everything extremely visible. And when things go wrong, customers often flock to social media to air their grievances; a perfect example is the article I recently co-authored for Forbes Online, with Mark Fidelman, about the Southwest Airlines 3 Million Fan Flash Sale fiasco. In my book, I talk about Killer Customer Service. Another way to think about this is as Customer Obsessed Service. But what does it take to make this happen at an organization?

Expectations

Before we can discuss Customer Obsessed Service, we need to make sure we understand customer expectations. Customers have changed, and customer expectations have greatly changed! Social media has put everything into a new light as empowered customers are taking up their mobile phones and tweeting their distress for all the world to see. Here is a typical customer service tweet:

Does anyone know if COMPANY X has a Twitter? I want to make sure everyone knows how POOR their customer service is!! I’m sooooo annoyed.

If nothing else, brands need to be using social media to listen to the customer conversation for concerns or issues. Sometimes customers may be whining, and sometimes customers may have a real problem that needs to be addressed. Customer Obsessed Service means a company is attentive to what their customers are saying via social media (and via other mechanisms as well, including surveys, comments to sales, feedback to customer service reps, etc.) and then takes action to make sure the customer’s issues are resolved to their satisfaction.

Action: Do you understand the expectations of your customers for your products, and for your customer service? If not, spend some time listening to customer conversations, talking to customers for clarification, and determining the top pain points.

Employees

Most employees in an organization don’t understand what it takes to provide great customer service, much less Customer Obsessed Service. Yet employees are a key factor in whether customer service sucks or rocks. This is true whether the employee actually works in customer service or whether they are not customer facing at all!

Customer Obsessed Service starts with hiring the right people – those who are naturally people-focused, have a passionate spirit, are empathetic, and like to think creatively to solve problems. Southwest Airlines, who is generally great at customer service, calls this having “…a Warrior Spirit, a Servant’s Heart, and a Fun-LUVing Attitude.” I couldn’t agree more!

These employees also have to be empowered to do what is right for the customer. This doesn’t mean giving every customer a discount, or something for free when they complain. It DOES mean listening to the customer’s needs and doing what they can to make it right without always having to get a supervisor’s approval. Guidelines need to be clear, and when they are employees are freed up to get the help they need to turn around a bad situation with a customer.

Action: Start with an assessment in your organization. What do your employees think about your customer service? What would they do to make it better?

Customers as Assets

Customer Obsessed Service is also achieved based on how we measure it.

Incredibly, many companies today are still measuring their customer service based on how many calls they can process in an hour. Get the customer off the phone/chat as soon as possible in order to respond to more customers. The end result is usually customers that have to call again in order to finish getting their questions answered. These types of metrics are used when organizations look at the customer service department as something to be measured on a P&L statement. Customer service is viewed as a cost center.

Organizations espousing Customer Obsessed Service view customers as a valuable asset that belongs on a balance sheet. Each customer interaction is a golden opportunity to improve the relationship, and each customer touch could result in a customer who is so happy they become an evangelist for the brand.  Don Peppers and Martha Rogers talked about this in their book Return on Customer Companies that treat their customers as an asset create a very different approach to customer interaction; each customer contact is reviewed to see how it will add to or detract from the value of each customer.

Action: Review your customer service metrics to see how you view your customers.

What About You?

What else do companies need to get right operationally in order to create Customer Obsessed Service? Who is doing it well? Leave a comment with your thoughts, and let’s start a discussion on Customer Obsessed Service!

Lithium’s Customer Heroes

I recently attended the 2012 Lithium Network Conference (LiNC for short) in San Francisco to hear about the latest and greatest from Lithium Technologies as well as from thought leaders such as Brian Solis, photo left, who shared about Digital Darwinism from his new book The End of Business as Usual. Lithium’s software powers the social customer experience, including online branded communities, for over 300 brands including AT&T, Best Buy, Sephora, Skype, and most recently added Nestle, Aruba Networks, and Guitar Center, among others. I have attended two of these events in the past – as a Lithium customer (Verizon). This year, Lithium asked me to come as an industry thought leader so I could look at their event and announcements from a different perspective. Here are some of my key takeaways.

Good News for Social Customer Service

Having been a Lithium customer for the past two years, when I was the Verizon Community program manager and social media strategist, I am probably a bit different from other “thought leaders” who attended the briefing and the event. I have used many if not most of the functions of the Lithium offering. I was happy to see a renewed focus on both sides of social business – customer service, as well as marketing.

In fact, I had wondered how much new functionality we would see in the area of customer service. In the past, support communities have been Lithium’s bread and butter. In the past year or so, Lithium had put a renewed interest into marketing and had some great successes; Sephora’s Beauty Talk is a great example of how to engage the social customer. With the renewed interest in the marketing side of the house, I was a bit concerned that Lithium would swing too far in that direction and neglect good ‘ole customer service.

I was pleased to see great improvements in their customer service functionality, mainly the new Lithium Response offering. It takes the already strong features in the Lithium customer service platform and expands further on them, allowing customer service agents to have all the information they need at their fingertips so they can do what they do best – respond quickly. From what I have seen, it seems to be able to provide the full fire-hose of social media information, prioritize issues that come in to the business, route them to the right agents, and surface content (from both the community as well as from self-service pages) that can help solve customer queries. It also includes case management, which had been lacking. It looks like a great step up from the customer service functionality previously available with an online support community, and it will make the interaction between social media customer service teams and community managers much easier. I look forward to seeing more of it in action soon.

Improving Social Media Marketing

On the marketing front, Lithium announced some new partnerships, such as Shoutlet. This particular partnership will allow Lithium customers to take advantage of Shoutlet features that will help make the social conversation easier, especially in the area of marketing campaigns and CRM. It will be great to watch some of Lithium’s marketing communities take this on and deliver strong social media ROI. Other areas where the focus on marketing is visible include additional opportunities for photo sharing, group spaces/private communities (great for research and innovation), as well as improved single sign-on (much needed functionality) and more robust ratings and reviews (served up via widgets). All around, the Lithium social marketing offering has taken a big step forward, and it will make an impact in organizations that take advantage of it. In the future, I look forward to seeing these two pillars (customer service and marketing) of social business come together, as our customers don’t see departments as they go through their journeys with us. These pillars need to meet up in order to create the rockin’ customer experience that will be vital for business success in the coming months and years.

Heroes

I greatly enjoyed the conference itself; it was nice NOT to speak at an event for once! There were a lot of new faces this year at LiNC, both customers as well as Lithium employees, and this helped to keep the conference feeling fresh. New faces always means a lot of energy, and that was definitely apparent. I absolutely love the way Lithium showcases their customers at their events, and this one was no exception. Using the theme of Heroes, the Lithium event team had customers share the stage with Lithium executives. They told some inspiring stories of how their companies, including such leading organizations as Skype and Cisco, are using Lithium to get solid returns on social media as well as innovate in their space. I highly recommend more customer sharing at future Lithium conferences as well as throughout the year; hearing from other community managers was always very helpful, as well as inspiring, when I was a Lithium customer.

Thank you for an exciting and entertaining LiNC event, Lithium, and thank you for having me there.

(Photo credit: Top, Becky Carroll; Bottom -Lithium Technologies video from LiNC 2012, Paul Gilliham)

Customer Experience Food for Thought

I want to eat there!

As many of you know, I have been doing quite a bit of traveling lately, speaking about my book and sharing the Customers Rock! message all over the world – most recently in Bogota, Colombia! As most travelers are aware, the customer experience is especially important when you are away from home; it becomes something we are truly living.

So as you can imagine, the sign in the above photo really caught my eye. It was on the wall of a restaurant, Max’s Cafe, at the San Francisco Airport. Here is what it says,

“We run the restaurant for the ENJOYMENT AND PLEASURE of our customers, not the convenience of the staff or the owners.”

Who wouldn’t want to eat there? As customers, isn’t this what we are hoping to find in the businesses we frequent? Whether the business is a restaurant serving hungry travelers or a company providing office supplies, we want things to work for US, the way WE want them to; we don’t want to be inconvenienced.

This particular restaurant has thought through what could make the experience better for their customers, travelers who are rushing past to catch their flights. For example, Max’s Cafe is known for their packed sandwiches. They have thought about travelers who need to grab and go, eating their meal on the planes, and have created a container for their sandwiches which keeps the salad and those juicy pickles separate from the bread. Very convenient for their patrons! Oh, and the man creating my sandwich felt like my own personal lunch advisor; he was very engaged in creating a great experience for me.

Missing the Mark

But this great experience is not always happening, is it? The results of the mis-steps in this area are not positive for businesses. According to the new American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, more than nine in ten Americans (93%) say that companies fail to exceed their service expectations.  One in two (55%) have ditched a purchase in the past year because of a poor customer service experience. Businesses are leaving a lot of money on the table due to their poor customer experiences, including marketing and customer service.

Tips for Improvement

How can you go beyond just customer service and generate more opportunities from your existing customers? I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mike Stelzner of the popular site Social Media Examiner. Watch the interview to get some tips on how to exceed your customers’ expectations and create a ROCKin’ customer experience.

What about you? How do you create a great customer experience? Are you struggling to keep your current customers at the forefront of your business? What tips do you have for others on how to get more opportunities from your current customers?

The Bathroom Experience

Once again I am participating in the Bathroom Blogfest. As I have mentioned before, if you have a physical presence, whether you are B2C or B2B, your bathroom is an important part of the customer experience. What does it say about your brand?

I have been on the road A LOT these past few months since my book launched, so I have had the opportunity to stay in many different hotels across the country (and at a variety of hotel brands). I thought it would be fun to post photos of some of the bathrooms I encountered during my travels (mostly in my hotel room). Which bathrooms do you think belong to which brands? The following are some of the brands where I stayed: Marriott, Westin, Ritz-Carlton, and a boutique hotel, Paramount Hotel in New York City. (Answers are at the end of the post.) Do they say would you would have expected about that brand?

Be sure to check out the list of all the participating bloggers, also at the end of the post. A big shout-out to CB Whittemore for leading the charge again this year!

Bathroom 1

 

 

 

 

Bathroom 2  Bathroom 2

 

 

 

 

Bathroom 3  Bathroom 3

 

 

 

 

Bathroom 4  Bathroom 4

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the list of Bathroom Blogfest bloggers (answers afterwards):

 

Name Blog Name Blog URL
Susan Abbott Customer Experience Crossroads Customer Experience Crossroads
Paul Anater Kitchen and Residential Design http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com
Shannon Bilby From the Floors Up http://fromthefloorsup.com/
Toby Bloomberg Diva Marketing Diva Marketing Blog
Laurence Borel Blog Till You Drop http://www.laurenceborel.com/
Bill Buyok Avente Tile Talk http://tiletalk.blogspot.com
Jeanne Byington The Importance of Earnest Service http://blog.jmbyington.com/
Becky Carroll Customers Rock! http://customersrock.net
Katie Clark Practical Katie http://practicalkatie.blogspot.com/
Nora DePalma O’Reilly DePalma: The Blog http://www.oreilly-depalma.com/blog/
Paul Friederichsen The BrandBiz Blog http://brandbizblog.com/
Tish Grier The Constant Observer http://spap-oop.blogspot.com/
Elizabeth Hise Flooring The Consumer http://flooringtheconsumer.blogspot.com
Emily Hooper Floor Covering News Blog http://www.fcnews.net/category/blog/
Diane Kazan Urban Design Renovation http://blog.urbandesignrenovation.com
Joseph Michelli Dr. Joseph Michelli’s Blog http://www.josephmichelli.com/blog
Veronika Miller Modenus Blog http://www.modenus.com/blog
Arpi Nalbandian Tile Magazine Editors’ Blog Tile Editor Magazine Blog
David Polinchock Polinchock’s Ponderings http://blog.polinchock.com/
Professor Toilet American Standard’s Professor Toilet http://www.professortoilet.com
David Reich my 2 cents http://reichcomm.typepad.com
Victoria Redshaw & Shelley Pond Scarlet Opus Trends Blog http://www.trendsblog.co.uk
Sandy Renshaw Purple Wren http://www.PurpleWren.com
Bethany Richmond Carpet and Rug Institute Blog Carpet and Rug Institute Blog
Bruce D. Sanders RIMtailing http://www.rimtailing.blogspot.com
Paige Smith Neuse Tile Service blog http://neusetile.wordpress.com/
Stephanie Weaver Experienceology http://experienceology.blogspot.com/
Christine B. Whittemore Content Talks Business Blog Content Talks Business Blog
Christine B. Whittemore Smoke Rise & Kinnelon Blog http://smokerise-nj.blogspot.com/
Christine B. Whittemore Simple Marketing Blog http://www.simplemarketingblog.com/
Ted Whittemore Working Computers http://www.kinneloncomputers.com/
Chris Woelfel Artcraft Granite, Marble & Tile Co. http://www.artcraftgmt.com
Patty Woodland Broken Teepee http://www.brokenteepee.com/
Denise Lee Yohn brand as business bites http://deniseleeyohn.com/bites/

Answers: Westin, Marriott, Paramount, Ritz-Carlton – how’d you do?

How Zappos Affects Your Customer Experience

Who is your customer experience competition? Those of you only looking inside your own industry need to take a look around, as your competitors are not who you think they are – especially online. Organizations should be asking this question: Which companies have the best practices in customer focus across all industries?

I recently exchanged Facebook messages with Deb Robison, a smart marketing and social media gal. She wanted to share a customer service story with me and get my take on it.  Here is her story:

I got a new computer recently and needed to order some accessories. Around this same time, I needed some shoes and books. I placed orders with Zappos, Amazon, Apple, and a designer’s shop, Jonathan Adler. Of course, the three big guys sent me order acknowledgment and tracking info all through the process. I got an order notification from (ordered a laptop sleeve) Jonathan Adler, then nothing, so a few days after I placed the order, I sent an email asking if my order had shipped. Later the next day I got an email from a customer service rep explaining that they did receive my order and that “my colleague is trying to find your bag at one of their stores.” Once it ships, I would get a shipping notification. That was two days ago. And, I noticed they have already charged my credit card.

So my question is this – are my customer service expectations skewed because I have dealt with some big companies that have solid customer service and shipping systems in place? (Note: Zappos had the best and most prompt services of the three big companies, of course.) Jonathan Adler is a smaller brand, but a high-end one and kind of trendy right now, so is it fair for me to set the same expectations on them?

My expectations have clearly been shaped by the immediacy which other retailers respond & deliver. Is that fair? As customers, we never had this kind of relationship before. We used to get out the catalog, fill out the form, put a check in the envelope and wait.

Yes, Deb, customer expectations are absolutely set based on our experiences with companies such as Zappos and Amazon. In fact, every interaction we have with a company sets our expectation for the next interaction, whether with that business or with another completely different organization. Additionally, the online experiences that customers have with companies, whether on the company website or via social media, are creating a higher degree of visibility. In social media, this becomes even more important as the social customer’s friends and followers are also watching, and sometimes sharing the experience with their network (unfortunately, this is more often the case when the experience has been poor).

Customer Expectations of Service

It is important to understand the needs of your customers, as well as their wants and desires. It is also critical to understand what they expect when they contact your company. Typically, customer expectations of service tend to fall into three areas:

- Customers want fast service: They want their problems solved or questions answered quickly. “Help me get back to what I need to do.”

- Customers want friendly service: They want to feel that the company appreciates their business. “Help me know that you care about me.”

- Customers want it to be easy: They want to be able to accomplish the task in the most efficient way possible. “Help make this simple for me.”

The three areas listed above may change in priority based on who your customer is, what kind of relationship they have had with your organization, and, as mentioned by Deb, what types of interactions they have had with your company and with others. Do you know what your customers want from you?

Taking Action

What can you do tomorrow to improve the experience your customers are having with your company?

1. Ask your customers. Really – go ask them! Find out what they expect from you, what you are doing well, and what you need to improve. Your customers will probably be happy to tell you, and they will also be glad you asked.

2. Look in the mirror. When is the last time you or someone from your organization called into your customer service line? Ordered something from your website? Tried to get help via your social media channels? Find out what it feels like to be your customer; I encourage you to look for both areas of improvement as well as your own best practices to share with your organization.

3. Look at the competition – from your customer’s perspective. Understand who is competing with you for the best customer experience, keeping in mind that it may not be anyone within your industry.

A world-class customer experience doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a plan that can be executed across all aspects of your organization. Your customer experience strategy should facilitate consistent treatment of customers, cultivate customer trust, and enable meaningful interactions at all points of customer contact. Most importantly, it should meet and exceed customer expectations. Now you have a customer experience that will ignite passion, inspire brand loyalty, and cement relationships.

The Old College Try

Today, I have a special guest blogger, Greg Meyer. Greg and I are kindred spirits when it comes to customer experience, and I asked him to share a recent car rental story and the lessons one can learn from it. Thanks, Greg. You rock!

The Old College Try

“Do, or do not. There is no try” -@yoda

“We try harder” -@avis

It’s really challenging to “speak with one voice” as a company, whether your company is small, large, or anywhere in between. I recently had an experience with a major car rental company that left me appreciative of individual effort and frustrated at the inability of the company to meet the needs of the customer.

So, what happened?

I had a small crisis – a flat tire on the way to an important meeting while traveling on business to Research in Motion headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario. I called Roadside Assistance, and my expectation was that Avis would send a crew to fix my tire. They actually told me to fix it myself and that there were tools in the trunk to accomplish the task.

Lesson #1 – The Company Process Doesn’t Always Benefit the Customer
The representative from Avis wasn’t necessarily wrong – he was following a script that suggested what he should do when someone calls in with a flat tire – but he wasn’t able (or willing) to see things from my point of view. I didn’t want to learn a new process, use any tools, or to do work because my day was already full.

Lesson #2 – Help can come from an Unexpected Place
Lauren (the building receptionist) went above and beyond my expectations by finding a local Avis rep when he was returning another car and escalating the issue to the local sales manager Chris. Chris showed up and brought me a new car – a Kia Soul – and was very pleasant. I was ecstatic and wanted to shout everyone’s praises to the whole world. And I did.

Lesson #3 – Oops, Everyone’s not on the same page
I drove off into the sunset with a new rental car and went along my merry way. Everything’s great, right? Not quite – when I returned home to the states I got a bill to replace the tire. Huh? After a few emails to figure out what was going on, I found that because my corporate office advises me to decline the rental car-provided insurance, incidents like a flat tire are “rotten luck” and need to be paid out of pocket.

I wrote to @AvisWeTryHarder and explained to Ann Smith (the social media representative) that this outcome was silly, that I shouldn’t need to pay it, and that she should fix it. She did (eventually), but she wasn’t able to do so immediately (by policy.) And the overall experience was one of confusion, rather than triumph at great service and heroic efforts by a few people.

What did I learn?
Avis resolved my issue and I didn’t have to pay for the flat tire (yay!) There were a few key lessons that I gleaned from this experience, including:
  1. It’s hard to speak with one voice – even if everything goes right, training your employees to understand the complexities of a situation and how to use common sense is difficult to train, so you’ve got to hire for attitude;
  2. The customer decides if it was a good experience — customers don’t care why it went wrong, they just want you to fix it. Or explain very clearly why you can’t fix it and to offer a good alternative;
  3. There might be good substitutes, but it’s hard to think of them sometimes - I could have called AAA Auto Club, but I didn’t realize that they would cover me while traveling in Canada. In this case heroic effort won the day.
What’s the impact of the “old college try”?
The customer doesn’t care whether you try harder. The customer cares whether you get it done. Yoda wins.
About Greg Meyer: Greg delights customers and tries to provide the best customer experience possible by listening, providing support, and solving problems. He is a startup veteran of several early stage companies including Gist (acquired by Research in Motion.) In addition to his ability to translate simultaneously between English and Geek, Greg likes to draw things and take pictures of signs. You can contact Greg at @grmeyer. (photo by http://flickr.com/photos/gregmeyer)

Killer Customer Service, or Customer-Killer Service?

A friend of mine has been a member of a particular airline’s frequent flier program (we will call this major US airline, AirlineX) for a number of years. He even has a credit card linked to that account to help accrue points. This friend had earned enough miles for a free trip to Europe but hadn’t been able to fly AirlineX for awhile since his company now required him to fly the cheapest option (which this airline never was). Knowing that his hard-earned points would expire soon, he called the airline to see what could be done to retain them. AirlineX told him that he had to fly a “qualifying flight” in order to retain his points. Unable to do that due to the aforementioned company policy (and with no other potential trips on the horizon), my friend lost his accrued points (and a future flight to Europe).

Now, this happens all the time; that is the part of the formula for points-based loyalty programs. Keep customers coming back so they will continue to earn points and hopefully continue to spend money with the business.

The real pain in this case is the monthly emails that my friend receives from the airline. Each month, AirlineX sends an email showing how many frequent flier points he has (or at this point, doesn’t have). This is most likely intended to help the airline stay top-of-mind with the customer and gently encourage them to book their next flight with the airline. However, in this case, the monthly email only serves as a reminder that this particular customer doesn’t have any more points with AirlineX – and that hurts.

Customers are watching the actions of your company. Every email they receive, commercial they view, social media site they “like”, and direct mail piece they read (or not) affects their view of your business and their overall customer service experience. It may be something that seems small to your organization which pushes the customer out the door.

What do your marketing communications say about your company? Are they helping your customers to buy more from you? Or are they painful reminders of a damaged relationship, resulting in customer-killer service?

(Photo credit: marco)

Announcing my first book: The Hidden Power of Your Customers

I am so excited to share the news with all of you that I have a book coming out in July! And it is thanks to you, my faithful Customers Rock! readers, that it is happening. The book is called The Hidden Power of Your Customers: Four Keys to Growing Your Business Through Existing Customers, being published by John Wiley & Sons. The hardcover edition will be released on July 20, with eReader versions to follow.

This book has actually been a long time in the making – not so much from the perspective of how long it took to write it (see The Story below) but from the perspective that I have had this book in mind since before I began this blog in December of 2006. In fact, one of the reasons I started Customers Rock! blog was that I wanted to see 1) whether I enjoyed writing (I do) and 2) whether anyone else would enjoy reading what I wrote (you do!). So in a sense, this book has been over 4 years in the making!

This book is also one of the main reasons that I have been so quiet on my blog the past few months. I have definitely missed writing for all of you, and many of you have been encouraging me to get back out here and post. I am finally ready, and what better way to start back up than to introduce you to my book.

The Book

The Hidden Power of Your Customers is a book about how to focus on your current customers so that you can lengthen and strengthen your business relationship with them, thus bringing about increased customer loyalty, customer advocacy, and ultimately increased referrals. It is not a social media book (more on that in The Story below), but social media is woven throughout the book (as it should be woven throughout a company’s marketing and customer service strategies). It is also not a customer service book (but that is an important tenet). It is a book about growing your business through one of your company’s best assets – your existing customers.

Here is a short excerpt from the introduction:

It has been my experience that many companies spend most of their time and budget focusing on selling to new customers and end up neglecting their existing ones. This might work in the short term, but eventually these companies will find themselves losing more customers out the back door than they bring in through the front door. Additionally, the onset of social media is driving a major change in customer behaviors and habits, making it highly risky not to focus on existing customers. Social media has brought the customer experience to the forefront of discussions, so it is important for companies to be more vigilant than ever before.

As a result, some people will tell you that you need outstanding customer service. But customer service is not enough. You also need marketing that connects with your current customers. In fact, you need to consider the entire customer experience, and support it with a customer-centric culture, one that promotes an equally exceptional employee experience. And, of course, you do need outstanding customer service.

The Hidden Power of Your Customers is based around the principles of Customers Rock!, and the sections of the book follow the ROCK acronym:

R: Relevant marketing – Organizations need to market to their customers in a way that is relevant to them, including recognizing them as customers, using their language, and meeting their needs.

O: Orchestrated customer experience – Every place a customer interacts with a company needs to provide a consistent, planned experience for the customer that is beneficial to both parties. We can’t leave the customer experience to chance.

C: Customer-focused culture – We can’t just expect that a company will become customer-centric because it hires a few great customer service personnel or states that it cares about customers in its marketing. We need to ensure that customers are part of everything that our company does so that customer-focus becomes part of the company DNA.

K: Killer customer service – Companies need to take customer service to the next level, and it needs to be an integral part of the customer experience. Customer service is where the rubber meets the road, as many buying and renewal decisions are based upon this critical touch point. It has to ROCK.

The book is also supported with many case studies (based on personal interviews I conducted with company leaders), lots of practical tips, and fun personal stories – all written in the Customers Rock! style that you are familiar with here on this blog.

The Story

This past summer, at the end of my Marketing via New Media class which I teach at UC San Diego, my students were encouraging me to take what I know and write a book. I told them I had a book in mind already, I just hadn’t made any inquiries about it yet. I went home that evening and tweeted out that I was thinking about writing a book. Less than a week later, I received an email from an editor at John Wiley & Sons. In it, he said that he was interested in working with me on my book. He said he enjoyed this blog and felt that I had good material, and good credentials, to write a book. I actually had already written a book proposal the year before but hadn’t tried to do anything with it. I asked the Wiley editor whether this should be a social media book, and his recommendation was no, it should not be; he felt there were already quite a few of those out there (and I agree).

So, after giving Wiley’s offer some thought, I agreed and signed the contract. The book was off and running!

I then spent the next four months doing interviews, pulling together information, and writing the manuscript. It was completed on February 1 (I think I missed out on most of the family holiday activities this past season). Since then, I have been working with Wiley on a few rounds of edits, approving cover artwork, seeking “blurbs” (endorsements) for the book, and getting a top-notch thought leader to write the foreword (Thank You, Brian Solis – author of Engage! for being so gracious).

The book is now just about ready for prime time, so I felt it was high time to share about it with you all. The attendees of my recent session at SugarCon got a sneak preview of some of the concepts, and I will be giving more talks in the next few months before the release where I will have the opportunity to sign some pre-release booklets and get the word out about the book.

Will You Help Me Share About It?

I am thrilled that the book releases in just a few months (July 20), and I plan to continue blogging, speaking, and sharing about it on my social networks. Will you help me? Here are a few ways you can get involved in sharing the Customers Rock! philosophy that is in The Hidden Power of Your Customers:

  • Share about the book on your own blog or social networks. Here is the link to the book on Amazon.
  • Go to the Amazon page and click Like (right under my name, at the top of the listing)
  • Pre-order the book
  • If you are in San Diego, come to one of my Book Launch Parties (more info on these as it gets closer)
  • If you are not in San Diego, you can help sponsor me for a Book Signing/Event in your city. I will gladly come to your city for a signing if you help arrange the event; please contact me for details.
  • Submit to write a review of the book on your blog! I will be reaching out to bloggers for reviews to take place in early July; please leave me a comment or drop me a note at becky at petraconsultinggroup dot com if you are interested.

Again, thank you all for your support, encouragement, and loyalty over the past 4 1/2 years of this blog. Customers DO rock, and I can’t wait to show you more about that in the book.

Let me know what you think!

 

Customer Experience Conference: NetPromoter

conversation

I was recently contacted by the team running the Net Promoter Conference in Miami Beach, February 3 and 4, 2011. If you are a customer experience or other customer-centric professional, this is one event you should consider attending. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Richard Owen, CEO of Satmetrix (who I have interviewed previously on Customers Rock! Radio), and John Abraham, General Manager of NetPromoter Programs, about the event, the speakers, and why a focus on customer experience is so important.  Take a few minutes to grab a cup of coffee and have a listen to our brief conversation. Sounds like a great event!

Here are some of the speakers:

  • Andy Lark, Vice President, Large Enterprise, Dell
  • Brian Scudamore, CEO, with Simon Lowe, Director of Operations, 1800-GOT-JUNK?
  • Dan Cathy, President & COO, Chick-fil-A
  • Lara Wise, Vice President, Customer Experience and Customer Care, tw telecom
  • Mary Currier, Vice President, IT Relationship Management, Allianz Life Insurance NA
  • Michael McOmber, Customer Experience Manager, Siemens IT Solutions and Services North America
  • Richard Owen, CEO, Satmetrix and Author, Answering The Ultimate Question
  • Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company Fellow and Author, The Ultimate Question

Have a listen to the interview, and for those of you who attend, come back here and share your key takeaways!

Satmetrix interview

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Letting Customers Contribute to the B2B Experience

SpiceRexHow can companies get their customers more engaged and involved? Social media has been making it easier for user-generated content to appear as part of a brand’s marketing, usually with consumers. If a consumer is truly a loyal fan of that brand, they will be very excited to see their submission being used by their favorite company. There are many, many examples of companies using these tactics for marketing buzz and excitement as part of a social media campaign. When the campaign ends, the buzz usually dies down, and the new “fans” go look for other contests to enter. Not a great way to create long-term relationships. For this reason, I often say that social media is not a campaign; it is a relationship.

Customers Contribute

Some companies have been engaging with their true fans for years. For example, at Jones Soda their bottle labels are actually photos submitted by their customers via the Jones Soda website. Customer photos appear on the Jones Soda gallery, and a lucky few get theirs put on a bottle. Even though there is no fame and fortune to be received from this activity, Jones Soda fans love to contribute to the Jones community in this fashion.

Spice it Up in B2B

Spiceworks is a great example of letting customers contribute in the B2B space.  Spiceworks is a free set of tools that helps over 1 million IT professionals manage their network, helpdesk, and “everything IT in small and medium businesses.” They have a very active online community which answers questions for each other and shares what they think on a variety of topics. Spiceworks put together a photo contest asking IT professionals to share some creative pics that contained the Spiceworks logo, brand name, or simply a red chili pepper. From that contest, a community mascot was born, SpiceRex. Submitted by one of the members, SpiceRex grabbed the attention of the Spiceworks team and the hearts of the community, and he travels the world to visit various members (he is made of paper, so he travels light). He has become so popular that Spiceworks will be featuring the red orange T-Rex in a series of ads, created by community members, to tell the IT world about their free software. Spiceworks recently won a Groundswell award for the way they have energized their customers and created tremendous word of mouth through them.

When you have information about your customers and their passions that your competitors don’t have, you have an advantage.  When you use what you know about your customers and let them play a role in the experience, such as featuring a community mascot in your ads, now you are building on the customer relationship and increasing the likelihood of loyalty.

(Credit: SpiceRex created by akp982 @UnofficialSpice)

Tweets Not All Sweet on Black Friday

santa online 2Social media has brought the customer experience more in-focus than ever before, and this became very apparent during the start of the 2010 holiday shopping season on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Consumers made their lists of who had the best deals, based on what they learned on Twitter and other sites. The brave ones, armed with their mobile phones, made the trek into the brick-and-mortar retail stores to fight the crowds for their coveted items.

Other customers started their own Cyber Monday on Black Friday and decided to stay home and shop online. Armed with their own lists, and easy access to their social networks, they shopped and Tweeted heavily on both days.

Tealeaf, using advanced sentiment analysis from Crimson Hexagon, took a look at the tweets which occurred between Black Friday and Cyber Monday about the online customer experience, and here is what they found:

  • Twitter conversations about online shopping increased 256 percent on Black Friday and 202 percent on Cyber Monday compared to a regular shopping day.
  • Shoppers were not shy about sharing their victories and failures as they strived to beat the in-store crowds.
  • 38% of customers were delighted with the online shopping experience.
  • However, nearly a quarter, 24%, of online shoppers cursed and complained their way through the process.
  • 50% of the frustrated shoppers tweeted about the specific issues they were having, such as website errors, out of stocks and other classic online customer struggles.

Here are some examples of the frustrated tweets:

· well, so much for THAT christmas present. couldn’t even figure out how to order. Thanks. *rolling eyes*.”

· Why doesn’t the website work!!!! Need to buy my ticket home. -___-

· I was going to go nuts buying lots of stuff on the website, but it’s been down all day – lots of angry comments on their facebook

· I tried! website won’t let me checkout! I keep hitting refresh!

· I would love to buy the album, but there are issues with the website

I spoke with Geoff Galat, VP of Worldwide Marketing for Tealeaf, to learn more about the social media report they conducted. Geoff shared with me that these numbers are similar to the percentage of customers that experience online shopping frustrations on non-holiday occasions; there were just a lot more of them over the last weekend. More importantly, we discussed how the expressed experience of online shoppers might affect the perceptions of others. In a previous customer survey, Tealeaf found that 51% of online shoppers said social media had influenced their online transactions. When they read a negative comment online, 74% of consumers said it influenced their likelihood to do business with that company; 56% said they would avoid a particular vendor after reading bad reviews. Yikes!

On the other hand, 52% of consumers said they would use a particular vendor after reading good reviews.

What is the key takeaway? Social media has made the consumer online shopping experience one that everyone shares, at least vicariously. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all out in the open for anyone to read – and it is impacting their perceptions and potentially their behaviors.

It is important for companies doing business online to take a closer look at their online experience – not just for purchasing, but across the entire customer lifecycle. Each of these little website experiences might not look like much to the enterprise, but when they add up over time and across many customers, they could result in “death by 1000 cuts” for the website, and for the customer base. Companies need to understand all aspects of their online customer experience, including how customers use the site as well as customer expectations (which could be set by other great websites!), in order to make sure they are delivering the best service to prospects and customers over the holidays – and every day.

What are you seeing happen in the online customer experience that is best – or worst – practice? Please share some thoughts in the comments.

To see the Tealeaf presentation of the report, go here.

(Photo credit: YanC)

Bathroom Blogfest 2010 – Stuck in the 60s?

BathBlogfest 2010 buttonOnce again this year, I am pleased to be participating in the Bathroom Blogfest. This is the 5th year of the Blogfest (4th year participating for me – now with 34 other bloggers in 2010), and we use this opportunity to focus on the customer experience in one of the “forgotten” spaces, bathrooms! This year’s theme is inspired by Mad Men, and we will look to see whether some of these areas area still “stuck in the 60s”. Unless your business is 60s-inspired, it probably won’t work for you!

Now, here on Customers Rock!, I like to focus on the positives. So, I will show you one bathroom experience that is definitely “stuck”. However, I will then share photos of bathroom experiences that do a beautiful job of carrying the customer experience from the establishment into the washroom.

This Bathroom is Really Stuck!

I always advocate looking at the entire customer experience and working to ensure positive feelings as a result of those interactions. Recently, I was in Las Vegas for the BlogWorld conference, and I went to eat at Burger Bar in Mandalay Bay with some friends. The bar had a lot of great beers on tap, as well as a wide selection of bottled beers; it was a point of pride with them. So when I went to use the restroom, I wasn’t surprised to see the hallway lined with metal beer signs.

burger bar 1

This is a pretty neat experience; I felt immersed in the atmosphere as I proceeded (the door to the bathroom is at the end of the hall).  burger bar 2

Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to this ugly scene:

burger bar 3

Apparently, the restaurant shared the bathrooms with other stores/restaurants in that area (it was similar to a shopping mall), so their cool Beer experience ended at the door. It was such a stark contrast that at first it made me wonder whether I was in the right place!  The Burger Bar is “stuck” with this experience. Much like a parking lot, this bathroom situation was out of the control of the establishment.

What could be done to make this experience better? I don’t think there is much that could be changed, other than to create a sign at the end of the hall, before the door out of Burger Bar, noting that you are now leaving the restaurant and entering shared space. I am not sure that would completely remedy the situation, but sometimes simply setting expectations is all that is needed to turn a crummy experience into a tolerable one.

And Now For Some Great Bathrooms!

Las Vegas is definitely the city of glitz and glam, and the casinos and resorts make sure that feeling is carried through to every corner of their facilities.

Mandalay Bay

This washroom in the casino area of Mandalay Bay conveys the lush feeling that permeates the whole facility. The opulent furnishings mirror the carpets and upholstered walls leading into the bathroom. Luxurious.

Mandalay Bay bathroom

The Mirage

We went to The Mirage to see the fabulous Cirque du Soleil show Love (which was an absolutely wonderful experience itself, and one I highly recommend!) The bathroom was beautifully decorated with drawings of flower arrangements, which can be seen on the walls as one enters the restroom. (I definitely got some strange looks as I took this photo!)

Mirage bathroom overallWhat interested me was that the floral art actually continued right into the stalls themselves. There was a floral drawing mounted above each toilet (yes, I peeked into more than one stall to confirm it); see pics below for proof.

Mirage bathroom stall

While the pictures were indeed lovely, it would have been more practical to make the marble shelf a little larger so that a purse or small package could be placed there while using the facilities.

mirage stall 2

New York, New York

New York, New York hotel and casino is designed to look like something out of New York, and there were a lot of Broadway-style touches to the decor. We finished up our evening by sending the younger members of our party onto a voyage aboard the wild and long roller coaster at this hotel. While waiting, I stopped into the ladies room to check out the scene. The entrance to the bathroom had photos of famous stars from earlier decades (Marilyn Monroe, for example) lining the walls. The most striking feature of the restroom, however, was the fireplace! I don’t believe it was operational, but it looked very extravagant, especially with the chandelier above it.

nyny bathroom

What About Your Bathroom?

We have looked at the good, bad/ugly in this post with respect to how the customer experience carries over to the washroom. Whether your business is a retail establishment or a commercially-focused company, your bathroom still speaks volumes about your company. Is your bathroom “stuck in the 60s”, or are is it fully present in the year 2010, reflecting the best image possible about your organization? Let me know what you think about the bathroom experience!

Thanks to the Participating Bloggers!

Here is the list of all the participating Bathroom Blogfest 2010 bloggers! Thank you to CB Whittemore of Simple Marketing Now for her hard work pulling this blog festival together. I am honored to be a part of this effort

http://www.customercrossroads.com/customercrossroads/

http://www.KitchenAndResidentialDesign.com

http://blog.bigbobsoutlet.com/

http://blog.carpetsnmore.com/

http://blog.dolphincarpet.com/

http://fromthefloorsup.com/

http://blog.mybigbobs.com/

http://bloombergmarketing.blogs.com/bloomberg_marketing/

http://www.laurenceborel.com/

http://tiletalk.blogspot.com/

http://blog.jmbyington.com/

http://customersrock.net/

http://www.resultsrevolution.com

http://practicalkatie.blogspot.com/

http://www.professortoilet.com/

http://www.oreilly-depalma.com/blog/

http://livepath.blogspot.com/

http://www.awarepointblog.com/

http://circulating.wordpress.com/

http://spap-oop.blogspot.com

http://yourfifthwall.com/

www.josephmichelli.com/blog

http://www.modenus.com/blog

http://www.tilemagonline.com/Articles/Blog_Nalbandian

http://www.people2peopleservice.com/

http://www.onqualitativeresearch.blogspot.com/

http://blog.polinchock.com/

http://trendsblog.co.uk/

http://reichcomm.typepad.com/my_weblog/

http://www.arounddesmoines.com/

http://www.purplewren.com/

http://www.carpet-and-rug-institute-blog.com/

http://rimtailing.blogspot.com/

http://stevetokar.wordpress.com/

http://spiritwomen.blogspot.com/

http://experienceology.blogspot.com/

http://flooringtheconsumer.blogspot.com/

http://www.simplemarketingblog.com/

http://smokerise-nj.blogspot.com/

http://carpetology.blogspot.com/

http://lindaloo.com/

http://secretsinsandiego.com/

The Latest at Customers Rock!

News picThere has been a lot going on lately here at Customers Rock! October is going to be a busy month.

BlogWorld

I will be moderating a panel again this year at BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Las Vegas, October 14-16. My session this year is a special one. It looks back at the first panel I was ever involved in at BlogWorld 2 years ago, with some very special people. It included Frank Eliason (with Comcast at the time, now with Citibank – his first talk ever!), Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), Brian Solis (author of Engage!), and Toby Bloomberg (Diva Marketing Blog). We discussed

BlogWorld Panel 2008

social media and customer loyalty, a very new topic at the time.  Fast forward two years to 2010. Much has changed in the world of social media, and customer loyalty/customer service is just now being discussed as a social media goal. I am very excited to have a panel this year with some of the same players (Frank Eliason and Toby Bloomberg are returning), as well as a new person (Melissa Lacitignola from Zappos) to revisit the topic of Creating Customer Loyalty and Social Media – A Look 2 Years Later. If you are coming to BlogWorld, please come to the session and meet the panelists – and me. And say “Customers Rock!” (On the right, there is a pic from the original panel.)

Customer World/NACCM Customers 1st

Later in October, I am speaking in Orlando at the Customers 1st Conference, which is now co-located with two other customer-focused events at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel, October 25-27. In my role as Community Manager at Verizon (where I am a contractor), I am speaking on how to use a branded community to engage customers and move from customer support to customer relationships. There are many great sessions throughout the three conferences (including another Verizon session at the Customer Uninterrupted event on using technology to support customers). Let me know if you plan to come; it should be very helpful for those of you in customer service!

Customers Rock! Blog on Assistant Edge

My blog Customers Rock! is a Featured Resource on the new content site Assistant Edge. It is a community site that gathers great information for executive and admin assistants, and Customers Rock! was asked to participate. There looks to be some very helpful information over there for assistants as well as for others in business; check it out and let me know what you think.

And more news…

Will be coming later this week, with a very BIG announcement. Stay tuned!

From Reach to Relationships: microMarketing Chapter Review

focusI was recently asked to participate in a review of Greg Verdino‘s book MicroMarketing: Get Big Results by Thinking and Acting Small This is not to be an ordinary book review, however, although I enjoy doing those on occasion. I was asked to participate in a chapter-by-chapter review. Per the request, “In essence, the chapter-by-chapter review process is a way for us to offer experts in each area the opportunity to review chapters that correlate directly with their area(s) of expertise and interest.” Great! This is a customer-focused approach. I was asked to review Chapter 7, From Reach to Relationships, as this is the chapter that relates the most closely to my Customers Rock! blog. (Full disclosure: I was sent a complimentary copy of microMarketing.)

The Concept of microMarketing

Greg’s book endeavors to help us move our thinking from mass marketing to microMarketing. He shares that mass communications are no longer hitting their target, and it is better to offer the right thing to the right person than to try and offer what you have to everyone. Since I have a background working with Peppers & Rogers Group, this is not at all a foreign concept to me. For years, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers have talked about the death of mass marketing and the new world of 1to1 Marketing. As you will see in Greg’s book, the time is really right for this type of marketing to make a huge impact through a fresh, individualized channel, social media.

More Than Interesting Tweets

Chapter 7, From Reach to Relationships takes this concept into the realm of the customer and their social networks. Companies can best reach a customer when they are able to make meaningful connections with them, which means they must understand and meet that customer’s needs. Just being a nice person representing a brand on the other end of a Twitter handle won’t cut it. Neither will campaigns that strive to amass thousands of new “followers” or “fans”. As I tell my students at UCSD, social media is not about campaigns – it is about relationships.

Greg then goes on to discuss the research published by the Institute for Public Relations on the types of relationships companies can have with customers, urging the type of relationship that engenders loyalty, which leads to evangelism about a brand or a product. This reminds me of the concept of energizing customers found in the book Groundswell – giving customers what they need to really help spread the word about the brand. The right customers will raise their hands and volunteer to do this, not because they have any kind of monetary incentive to do so but because they truly believe in the brand. Zappos customers, for example, are encouraged to do this through emails sent to them encouraging reviews after a purchase, but Zappos customers evangelize the brand because of the great customer service they receive.

The rest of the chapter focuses on two mini case studies of companies, Panasonic (Living in HD program) and Wal-Mart (Eleven Moms program) that have focused on micro-relationships with their customers, finding the right people to help share about the brand with their own personal networks and online communities. What I like about both of these examples is that they focus on individuals rather than mass demographic segments. I believe there is an opportunity to take this even further, beyond microMavens and to the everyday consumer or business person. Greg closes the chapter with a short discussion of McDonald’s Moms Online Hubs, who is doing exactly that with regular moms in the USA and Canada, providing them a place to blog and be heard.  These types of relationships can be built over time, with some effort from a company, and they do get results. The challenge for organizations large and small is to determine who the right people are to connect-with and enroll into your marketing programs.

To Summarize This Chapter:

- Don’t fixate on the numbers

- Look for ways to strengthen relationships with your “hand raisers”

- Empower your customers, and they will spread the word for you

Thank you, Greg, for the opportunity to review your book and to begin to digest it within the context of building customer relationships. You rock!

More Chapter By Chapter microMarketing Reviews

Chapter 1/9-20: Adam Strout

Chapter 2/ 9-21: Lucretia Pruitt, Mitch Joel

Chapter 3/9-22: Jason Falls, Toby Bloomberg

Chapter 4/9-23: Kayta Andresen, Murray Newlands

Chapter 5/9-24: Amber Nashlund, Marc Meyer, Chris Abraham

Chapter 69/27: Ari Herzog

Chapter 7/9-28: Danny Brown, Jay Baer, Adam Cohen, Becky Carroll

Chapter 8/9-29: C.C. Chapman, Elmer Boutin

Chapter 9/9-30: John Moor, David Armano, Beth Harte, Justin Levy

Growing Business the Old-Fashioned Way

growth11

Here is a blast from the past, a classic Customers Rock! post on taking care of your current customers. Thanks to @Foundora for bringing it back to my attention. Enjoy!

Many companies spend a lot of time and money on attracting new customers to their product or service.  Much of the marketing budget is spent on mass approaches such as advertising and direct mail.  While those media may have their place in attracting prospects, they don’t help companies with their most valuable asset: their existing customer base.

Taking care of existing customers is a fantastic, cost-effective way to grow your business.

Drew McLellan shares some advantages we have when we concentrate on the “old” customers.  I especially like the first advantage he lists:

“They know who you are and trust/like you enough that they’ve done business with you”

How well is your organization doing in its communications with your customers?   What would cause them to trust you and want to come back for more?

Take a brief break here and think about the last 5 communications you received from companies you (or your company) are doing business with.  What kinds of touches were they?  Interactions with existing customers tend to be one of the following types:

  • A bill
  • An upsell offer
  • A cross-sell offer
  • A renewal offer

While there may be some customer value in these actions, they tend to be more favorable to the company than the customer.  In order to keep and grow existing customers, a proactive strategy is needed.  Here are some great ideas from a few of my favorite bloggers:

Meikah of Customer Relations shares with us some insight from Jack Stahl, former president of Coca-Cola and CEO of Revlon, on how to strengthen relationships in a B2B setting:

Persist in offering value. Give consistent and routine attention, which shows that you are always interested in your customer’s business, in good times and bad. Also, have an ongoing dialogue with the retailer, when an opportunity arises to regain your business.”

Offering something of value to your customers is very important to furthering the relationship.  If there isn’t value, customers may continue to do business with you for awhile, but the relationship will be short-lived.  Keeping the communications line open, whether or not the customer has recently purchased something, is one of the keys to keeping up a conversation with customers.

Joe Rawlinson of Return Customer gives us some ideas on communicating appreciation with existing customers.

“When was the last time someone told you how much they appreciated you? How do you feel when you get a thank you note?  If you’re like most, you get a warm fuzzy feeling inside. You smile. You feel a little bit better.

Don’t you think your customers would like to feel that same joy?”

Words of thanks are greatly valued by customers.  They are a nice antithesis to all the sales calls and could actually make the next call more fruitful!

Rosa Say of Managing with Aloha tells us how to deliver on the promise of our customers’ dreams.  She tells her readers about the art of creating loyal customers:

Managing with Aloha incorporates the art of Ho‘okipa to achieve a service and product delivery that is unparalleled in the dreams of your customers, turning them into loyal customers for life. When people feel they have experienced the ultimate in good service and in hospitality, they return for more of it time and again.”

Customer loyalty comes from more than just great products and services.  The customer experience has a very strong influence on customer attitudes towards an organization.  I love the way Rosa describes it above – an experience that makes you want to return again and again.

Other ideas on how to create meaningful interactions with existing customers:

  • Birthday cards/anniversary of start of relationship
  • Invitations to customer appreciation events
  • Asking for customer feedback, then acting on it and letting customers know the results
  • Customer apologies, where needed
  • Customer advisory boards

Which types of interactions you use depends on the company, it depends on the culture, and of course, it depends on what is important to the customer.

Finally, one can always use the element of surprise to keep relationships fresh.  Here is an unexpected example from Bounce fabric softener shared in Andy Nulman’s blog.

Sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference.

(Photo credit: cookelma)