Michael Schrage of the Harvard Business Review wrote a post earlier this week titled "Invest in your Customers more than your Brand."
His message, illustrated by the thinking of Jeff Bezos, is simple:
Give your customers information that will be useful to them. Become their trusted advisor; become their go-to source. This approach to marketing - providing a continuous stream of useful content - is what will attract customers in our information-rich age.
Pushing your product, or spouting your slogan is like pushing a rope - it's an inefficient use of your energy.
Your focus should not be on creating sales, but on creating customers. And today, customers are created through the sharing of useful knowledge.
The late Peter Drucker said, "The purpose of a business is to create a customer." He never said, "The purpose of a business is to create a brand, or to create a sale."
The Point is this: If you invest your resources in genuinely educating the market place, prospects will come to rely on you for advice. You'll develop a reputation that will evolve into your brand.
Invest in educating your market; sales and a brand will become the natural, happy by-product.
I've said before that I always try to complete a satisfaction survey. As customers, if we want a better experience, it's incumbent upon us to tell our vendors what they need to do to make us happier customers.
If you've been to a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru recently, you've probably received a survey solicitation wiht your receipt. It looks like the one to the right.
The concept is straight forward: Go to the website telldunkin.com and complete the survey, and when you're done, you'll get a code that entitles you to a free cup of coffee.
After going throught the survey process, there are clearly some things that were done well, and others, not so much.
First the good:
Most survey requests that I receive are solicited though email, by "the company" under the name of a high-level executives who's far removed from the everyday customer. DD has taken a different approach - the person that serves me asks for my opinion - and hand-writes his or her name on the receipt. Call me old-school, but hand-written and personalized beats faceless and automated any day of the week. If you want a real customer's real opinion, increase your chances of getting it by tapping into the human side: have a real employee who's been face to face with the customer ask for it. You'll receive more quality survey data that way.
Offer an Incentive.
Everyone loves to get something of value or free. DD offers a free cup of coffee for responding to the survey. After completing the on-line questions and submitting your response, you receive a unique number to write onto your receipt, and hand to the cashier during your next trip to DD, in exchange for your free coffee. It's amazing what people will do, to get something for "nothing."
DD did two things well; they positioned themselves to generate a high survey response rate, by making a more personal appeal, and offering an incentive. But once I began the response, that free cup of hot coffee began to cool off pretty quickly...
Don't make your customer jump through hoops to complete a survey.
Normally, when I receive an email survey, I click on a link that brings me to question number 1. With DD, there is no link: You open a browser, go to telldunkin.com, and enter the six-digit store number from your receipt:
OK, that's 26 keystrokes so far (assuming you didn't transpose any of those numbers from the small-print receipt). The receipt already has an automated code printed on it; why not also print a QR code on the receipt; a code that the customer can scan with their smart phone, to be directed to the first question? C'mon Dunkin - much smaller companies than you are already putting QR codes to constructive use.
Fewer Questions Yield More Respones.
There were over 50 questions and answers to read in order to complete the survey. That's waayyy too many questions to ask a customer - in fact, it was downright painful. QuestionPro recommends no more than ten, and ideally, five easy questions on a survey.
Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
Customer satisfaction surveys are a key element in customer experience design. The more quality candid feedback that you can get from your customers, the more informed you'll be, in improving the experience. Survey design is important - in fact, poorly-designed surveys can alienate a customer, and leave you in a worse-off position than if you hadn't conducted the survey at all.
I'm one of those people that almost always completes those satisfaction surveys after making a purchase, taking a flight, or staying at a hotel. Customer feedback is an important link in the customer experience chain, so if I don't give it, I probably shouldn't expect to get it (the improved experience, that is).
About ten days ago, I stayed one night at the Hilton Garden Inn Denver South/Meridian in Colorado. Two days after checking out, I received an email from the hotel, asking me to complete a brief satisfaction survey. I finally got around to completing and submitting the survey yesterday.
Today, I recieved an email from the General Manager at that hotel thanking me for staying there, and for taking the time to share my feedback. And then he asked me a question about one of my responses.
Here's why I felt this was an event worthy of a blog post - of all the surveys that I complete, surprisingly few companies acknowledge them, and those who do usually do it through an impersonal, automated email.
It's rare that a company actually follows up personally to close the loop on a customer's survey resposne. But those who do, are very often the leaders in their industries, with the highest levels of customer satisfaction, and customer loyalty.
Is that a coincidence??!
If you ask a customer a question, and the customer answers your question, would you ignore them, or respond in kind? Why should a survey be any handled any differently?
There are certainly places in life where we should be left alone. The bathroom, for example. I'm talking about being left alone, and out of reach of the insidious tentacles of marketing.
Now, I'm OK with those advertisements that men often see on the bathroom walls, just above those manly porcelain fixtures.
Let's face it (pun intended), I'd rather read some content, than just stare at an empty wall - even for a minute or two.
But just last week, while sitting in what I expected to be a more private place in the bathroom, I was unexpectedly interrupted by an adverstisement that appeared in an eqally unexpected place.
What impression is the advertiser trying to make here?
What kind of customer journey are they mapping?
What kind of customer experience begins on a sheet of toilet paper?
I'm convinced that there are certain places, where advertisers should leave us alone. For our benefit, and theirs' alike.
After all, what kind of a reputation are some brands trying to build? To me, advertising on toilet paper is akin to that overly-agressive obnoxious salesperson who willingly intrudes on anybody, anwhere, just to deliver their pitch. It can turn us off to the entire brand, rather than convince us to take the next step.
Sometimes, the very act of sending a message can send the wrong message. Do your customer journeys go to any places they shouldn't?
A few months ago, I was walking down Mulberry Street in New York's "Little Italy." I looked across the street, and the words on the big red awning grabbed me by the shoulders, and shook me:
"Best Cannoli on Planet Earth."
The bold statement caught my attention.
On September 6, 2012, 368 miles north of Mulberry Street, twenty new U.S. citizens were scheduled to receive their official citizenship in a cermony at the top of Mount Washington - the highest mountain peak in the Northeast quadrant of the United States. To be granted citizenship from this vantage point, with a panoramic view of your new country laid out before you, is a bold statement - far more bold than being granted citizenship inside a windowless court room.
A bold introduction can command attention.
How well do you gain the attention of your customers? How bold are your introductions? Do they grab your customers' attention like a brilliant sunrise? Are your statements take on a life of their own? Are they being re-stated, and shared by your customers with other customers?
Be bold. But just be sure that you can back up your boldness.
Many years ago - in fact, it was back in the last century - a customer service manager said to me,
"Sales sells the first one, and Customer Service sells every one after that."
He said it because he felt like his team of Customer Service people were unsung heros in the company. The company experienced significant growth in the 90's, and the sales people were lauded as the engine for growth. They drove the nice cars, went on the extravagent incentive trips, and were constantly recognized in company-wide emails from the president (who himself, had risen up through the sales ranks).
Sales got the applause for brining in the new customers, while a team of faceless Customer Service reps worked tirelessly in the engine room, keeping those customers happy, and buying again and again, long after the sales people had moved on.
That was long before anyone coined the term "social media."
15 years later, things aren't so quiet anymore in the Customer Service engine room. Today, customers will openly tell the free world all about the Customer Service Experience they had five minutes ago; they'll reach more potential customers, and impact a brand's reputation in less time than it takes to call a meeting of the marketing team. Sales can still sell first one, but more often, it's the wildfire reputation of sensational Customer Service that ignites the interest of the new customer.
Given our hyper-sensitivity as customers; a sensitivity to both good service and bad service, and our willingness and ability to share our feelings with the entire world in just a couple keystrokes, good customer service absolutely, positively should be treated as a marketing tool.
I certainly hope that the Customer Service Manager from the 1990's has kept at it long enough to finally get his due credit - from the social recognition of thousands of vocal customers.
It's summer on the coast of Maine, and people are eating lobster - lots of it.
Lobster prices have hit record lows, due to a glut in the supply. But if you go into a restaurant, don't expect to pay any less than you normally would - it appears that restaurants are still charging top dollar for the highly-craved crustacean. Should their customers be upset? Should they feel cheated? Is the restaurant risking its customer-friendly reputation, by not sharing?
When there's a glut of oil in the market, gasoline prices drop at the pump, and the consumer benefits. But when there's a glut of lobster in the market, the prices are no lower at the plate than they are when the supply is "normal."
Should a restaurant lower their prices on lobster dishes, when the restaurant pays less - a lot less - for the lobster? Should customers expect to share in the savings? Does a business risk its trustworthy reputation by not sharing the savings with its customers?
When a company reduces its costs through its own innovative efforts, it's "earned" the savings, and can more easily justify keeping those savings as profits. But when the savings were not "earned" by the company, is there any "marketing obligation" to pass those savings on to the customer?
They're everywhere. QR codes are on magazine pages, billboards, the backs of buses, and yes, on the bodies and backs of humans. QR codes are a convenient way to link the physical world with the digital world. And this instant linkage offers the potential to dramatically improve the customer experience.
But how well are we using QR codes? Are we using them randomly, without a lot of forethought? Or are we using them in simple ways to land more fish in our marketing nets, or are we using them in innovative ways to make our customers' lives easier?
Based on some examples I've seen and read about recently, we're at the low end of the learning curve; we're using QR codes more, but haven't fully figured out how to make the most of their potential, for the benefit of buyer and seller alike.
The QR code in the customer experience is a bit like the Internet in education - we know there's huge potential , but we haven't yet figured out how the best ways to use it, to drive transformative results.
A July 25 post "Quesitonable Practices and the QR Code" in the 1:1 Media Blog described a large QR code that appeared on the back of a city bus, linking the viewer to a special offer. The trafffic safety folks probably were not consulted in this scenario: busses are followed by cars, and drivers of cars have smartphones, and drivers using smartphones while driving have a higher likelihood of getting into an accident - an unintended consequence of an ill-considered use of the QR code. Before placing the QR code, consider the context of the customer.
During a recent vacation on the mid-coast of Maine, I checked out the 65th Annual Maine Lobster Festival. A large plackard was placed at the entrance to the festival, with three QR codes displayed. One of the codes lead to the Festival schedule, so I scanned it with my iPhone, to see when Jonathan Edwards would appear on the music stage. I landed on the website for the Festival - a site that wasn't designed to be viewed from the smaller screen of a smartphone, and therefore, not an easy way to view the schedule. Before placing the QR code, consider the context of the customer.
At the other end of the spectrum, there have been some pretty innovative uses of QR codes that really have improved the customer experience; not just by making it easier to purchase a product, but by making it easier to enjoy using the product. The McLellan House of the Portland Museum of Art is a two-hundre year old mansion that's open for self-guided tours with some fascinating displays from its era. One wouldn't normally expect to see QR codes in an environment like this, but the Portland Museum of Art has done a tremendous placing the codes on walls and exhibits to enrich the customer experience. A visitor can simply scan the code to learn more about the design of that famous "Floating Staircase."
QR Codes offer great potential to improve the entire customer experience well beyond sales and marketing. If we give more forethought to the use and placement of the codes, we'll be more likely to tap into that full potential, and deliver a better experience fo seller and buyer alike.
“Talk to someone about themselves and they'll listen for hours.”
Dale Carnegie said that in his best seller, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” The point is that a person will engage with you longer, when the "conversation" is about that person.
"If you make your product (or service) about your customer, they'll buy from you for years."
In the Business Section of the August 1 New York Times, Andrew Newman described a new commercial International Delight in the article, "Coffee Creamer Brand Focuses on Simplicity and Identity."
International Delight, or "ID" has recognized that in addition to having a favorite flavor, coffee drinkers have their own personal ways of adding the creamer to their coffee to make it "just the way they like it." ID is using the commercials to highlight this personalization factor to build a stronger bond with their customers.
The Point is this:
Make your product relevant to the customer; give your customer a way to make your product their product. When a customer takes ownership of your product, they’re building a tighter bond to you, your company and your brand. And tighter bonds make for stronger relationships.