Customer Relationship Innovation for the Emergent Social Business

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I will be phasing this blog at the end of December, 2011.
Please visit my new blog at http://www.brianvellmure.com
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Speaking at an event hosted by SugarCRM and IBM Social Business this week, I informally polled the audience.

“How many of you are NOT on facebook?” No hands were raised.
“How many of you have a twitter account?” Most of the room raised their hands.
“LinkedIn?” Most of the room again raised their hands.

I repeated the same questions, referencing the people in the room’s businesses, and a slightly smaller number of folks raised their hands, but more than half still did.

I then asked – “How many of you know what to do with them?” Giggles. Laughter. Very few hands.

This is where we collectively find ourselves. It’s representative of a number of organizations that I have the opportunity to work with and speak to.

I didn’t even think of asking if any organizations in the room had created a tactical plan to listen and engage with customers and create a seamless (and amazing) experience across multiple channels and domains. Most companies are still trying to get the fundamentals right (as Filiberto Selvas pointed out here)

It’s easy to join a social network. It’s harder to engage. What should I say? What will they think? Do I have permission?

It’s even harder to engage with a coordinated strategy and accurately measure the results of your efforts. Blend activities on the social web with what’s happening in the rest of the organization…across departmentsacross silos?

If we’re not even on the same page internally, how can we communicate a unified message to the world that hasn’t been careful crafted by our marketing team and the agencies that they work with?

My anecdotal observation is that many companies get here and then acknowledge that it’s just too big of a challenge to tackle…at least for now.

“If you’ve got to start somewhere, why not here? If you got to start sometime, why not now?” – Toby Mac

New landscape.
New customer.
New roles.
New communication mediums.
New expectations.
New corporate culture.
New Focus.
New Critical Success Factors.

It’s quite a bit to digest when people are trying to keep their jobs and help keep the company profitable, when they’ve already just absorbed the jobs of 1-2 people who were laid off over the past few years. However, only focusing simply on the here and now is the path to extinction.

Those who understand how these new changes are affecting their marketplace (which in most cases is larger, more complicated, and more diverse than it was just a few years ago) will be hyper-rewarded. Those who fail to admit, understand, and adjust to these rapidly evolving new realities will be destroyed, or more likely die a long, slow, painful death.

Below are a few highlights from the presentation.

B2B Buyers

FOUR THINGS TO FOCUS ON NOW

While there’s no notes or audio to the full deck, I’ve provided it below. Hopefully it provides value, and helps to stimulate some interesting conversations on the social web and for you in your respective organization(s). Interestingly, Mike Fauscette touched on many of the same themes in his blog post “Customer Service – the new Marketing in the era of the Social Customer”. It’s definitely worth a read.

One other final fascinating tidbit from the event was that I met and had a good chat with a Director of Marketing from a Silicon Valley startup. I meet and talk with plenty of Directors of Marketing. What was interesting about this one was that she said that she was actually a social anthropologist. My ears perked up. Seems like someone is paying attention. While the roles of social anthropologist and Director of Marketing may seem to be world’s apart, they’re not. Here’s a link to an article I wrote highlighting why it might be the perfect fit.

It’s fun to be part of the greatest transformation since the industrial revolution? Are you in?

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In an era of crisis & revolution, is your company the next target?

We are living in interesting times indeed. Geo-political revolutions, financial crises, economic uncertainty. Try as we might to ignore them, the fact is that the very fabric of capitalism is being re-evaluated, and perhaps even rewoven.

What we have assumed and known for at least 150 years is at the very least being questioned. Institutions that have spanned generations are now vulnerable.

Banks are still closing down weekly. The situation in Europe is increasingly fragile as previous whispers of dramatic austerity and potential collapse of the Euro become potentially viable outcomes.

In the United States, President Obama’s approval rating is at an all time low. Congress approval rating is at 14% – FOURTEEN PERCENT! – also an all time low.

Civil unrest has spread from oppressive dictatorial regimes in the Middle East and Africa to the developed world (see London riots).

Corporate America is obviously feeling the effects of many of these issues as they affect all of us, directly or indirectly.

You are likely familiar with the recent collapse of these famed organizations:

  • Lehman Brothers
  • Merrill Lynch
  • Blockbuster Video
  • Borders Bookstores

Power to the People

Friends, we are living in a unique era. While world leaders collectively wrestle with the greatest economic challenges in the last 70 years, many corporations find themselves doing the same. Customers are voicing their opinions about companies they do business with, as constituents voice their displeasure about the poor job their leaders are doing on their behalf.

The following incidents caught executives by surprise as specific cries against corporate actions rallied the hearts, minds, and activity of thousands in revolt against insensitive corporate interests.

  • Dell Hell
  • United Breaks Guitars
  • Kevin Smith’s Southwest Airlines Incident
  • Greenpeace and Nestle

Jeremiah Owyang chronicles a more complete list of corporate social media crisis here

What’s perhaps most interesting is that these recent revolutions and crises, whether political or corporate, are being fueled and enabled by the reach and connectedness of internet based social networks.

While Jeremiah and the team at The Altimeter Group once again published a quality open research report titled “Social Readiness: How Advanced Companies Prepare” , it is possible to miss some of the larger, more important underlying issues.

The Seeds of Revolution

Surely, rapid uprisings and revolutions don’t just happen because someone tweets about it, or posts a YouTube video. It’s not the medium that really matters. It’s the ability for the message to spread, and for people to self-organize quickly – to out-think, out-flank, and out-number their oppressors or aggressors.

Revolution happens because a latent frustration finds an outlet. It happens because enough people unite and take action around an idea of change. Connected by a common interest or frustration, the network effect takes place as people unite in a flash mob around a common goal. It happens because the thought of things staying the same becomes more fearful and oppressive than the uncertainty and risk associated with standing up and going a different direction.

According to BJ Fogg’s behavioral model (Hat tip to Dr. Graham Hill and Dr. Michael Wu for pointing me his way), there are three primary factors that lead to behaviors:

  • Motivation
  • Ability
  • Trigger

You see, I believe that there are tons of latent motivations out there that never turn into anything because the other two factors don’t exist. Social Networks and ubiquitous connectivity are providing the ability to actually do something once a trigger occurs. With latent motivations and now the ability to do something now in place, a trigger event becomes a spark that can quickly flame into a roaring fire.

In a world that is increasingly connected, increasingly digital, and access to anything and anyone is available in real time, corporate leaders should be considering the following questions.

The fabric of global society is transforming from a collection of lots of small, geographically connected groups to groups that are connected in a new geography that transcends previous space and time limitations.

Much of the new global infrastructure has been laid and it will continue to become more pervasive and more powerful.

People can now aggregate across boundaries, and organize beyond the constraints and management comforting silos. Al Quaeda and WikiLeaks quickly come to mind. In the same way, business units are self-organizing around the constraints of their IT departments.

Guess what? Our prospects and customers now have the ability to do the same.

The question every executive should be asking right now

So then the next question is, will your organization lead the next revolution in your marketplace, empowering and giving voice to the latent motivations of your customers, or will it become a victim of a more agile, more united group of customers who will self organize around their collective needs and jobs, leaving your outdated organization in their wake?

Let’s continue the discussion

If you are in Southern California or Arizona, please join me on September 21 and 22 as I lead discussions centered around this topic in a series of Executive Breakfasts sponsored by NICE.

Networks, Signals, Reputation and Delight

The era of mass marketing, sales driven information gathering and sharing, and being “just good enough to win” is being shattered by the rapid emergence of a smart, networked, and increasingly demanding generation of empowered customers. In the fragmented and fast moving world of concepts, buzzwords, technologies, and applications, most executives are looking for looking for answers to a few basic questions:

– What matters?
– What’s different?
– How can I and or my organization benefit?
– Where is the opportunity?
– What should I do now?

As I survey the evolving landscape, there are four primary things that stand out as emerging keys to sales and marketing success in an always on, attention scarce, information rich world.

  • Growing your network
  • Sending signals that are valuable
  • Building a glowing reputation
  • Focusing on delighting your customers

None of these are new tactics. They’ve all stood the test of time and have been employed by folks over the last several hundred years. However, the speed and access to people and information has made each of them exponentially more important. Take a look at the stats in the image below.

*** TAKEAWAY ***: When buyers want something, they’ll turn to search and their network to look for answers. Make sure you are there.

Why reputation and ranking is important

A great “human digitization” is taking place. Hordes of people and content are flooding into the web. Search engines and other content and people filters have to come up with a scoring mechanism to make results meaningful. Google, Bing, Facebook, and others are merging “people rank” with “page rank”. Search results are now being presented taking into account the “influence” and “reputation” of the messengers who are sharing it.

*** TAKEAWAY ***: Position yourself and your organization as a voice that matters (among those who know you, AND those who have yet to discover you)

Messenger as Important as the Message

*** How do you do this? ***

  • Build your network(s).
  • Send valuable signals – these could be blog posts, tweets, white papers, videos, comments, etc.
  • Focus on delighting your customers, prospects, partners, employees, suppliers, etc. It matters. It stands out. It breeds enthusiasm, loyalty, and word of mouth.
  • As your networks and signals expand their reach with positive sentiment, your reputation will increase.
  • As your reach and reputation grows, it provides an even greater platform to create moments of “delight”
  • Congratulations! An exponential and continuous feedback loop has been created.

Networks, Signals, Reputation, and Delight

For more on the concept(s), feel free to download/view the entire presentation below, or simply contact me directly.

Social Media, Collaboration, and Customer Insights with an elite group of experts: April 4-6, 2011

When SugarCRM asked me to assemble the social track for SugarCon, the first thing that impressed me was the “spirit” of the track, and conference for that matter. It had little to do with touting Sugar; the company, or the products they make. Rather, it was all about creating a gathering of thought leaders, practitioners, and vendors to mutually work together in the effort of taking the next leap in improving customer relationships.

The great thing about working in collaboration with an open source company is that they “get” stuff like “open”, “collaboration” and “community”. It seems to be just naturally in their DNA and has been since their inception.

SugarCon 2011

I am excited about the lineup. The quality of speakers is amazing, and contains a diversity of perspectives that is hard to emulate, especially at a vendor conference. If you are free April 4-6, 2011, please mark your calendars and plan to attend SugarCon.

Considering that the price for the entire event is far less than what these folks normally charge for an hour of their time, plus the invaluable benefit of networking with other executives, marketers, sales folks, and technologists, it makes it a no-brainer if you can attend. Add to that the additional keynotes, 5 additional tracks, and it’s truly an event you won’t want to miss.

***** To make it even sweeter, mention the special discount code #SCON040511 and get $150 off. *****

Here’s a quick breakdown of the presenter’s lineup, chalk full of folks who have a reputation of keynoting on their own.

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg (@pgreenbe)

Paul will be keynoting the event. If you don’t know who Paul Greenberg is, you probably “have been very busy”. He’s written four versions of the best selling book, “CRM at the Speed of Light”, is an independent analyst, and a well respected consultant to some of the largest and well known CRM vendors in the world. He coined the most used definition of Social CRM, and has energized an industry with his research, intelligence, signature writing style, inquisitive mind, and kind and generous nature. Paul was the mastermind and primary catalyst behind one of the most unique and powerful events I have been to almost exactly a year ago, which has since quite literally propelled an industry (Social CRM) that Gartner is now saying is greater than a $1 Billion marketplace. Paul is well worth the price of admission alone.

By the way, there’s another one of these now famous #scrmsummit events coming up next month (March) in Madrid, Spain if you can make it.

Esteban Kolsky

Esteban Kolsky

Esteban Kolsky (@ekolsky)

If you clicked on the Madrid, Spain “Social CRM Strategies for Business” link, you probably saw a picture of Esteban dropping knowledge in a purple shirt and a shiny blue tie. While he likely won’t be wearing a suit, he most definitely will be dropping knowledge about the evolution of social and CRM to this point in time, and will be leveraging his extensive research experience (former Gartner analyst) to paint his view of the coming “collaborative enterprise”. Esteban is one of the sharpest minds in the space, and possesses a great blend of experience (analyst, consultant, practitioner), and background (an Argentinian of Eastern European descent that floats around Silicon Valley). He’s also got a great sense of humor. You won’t want to miss his session.

Dr. Natalie Petouhoff

Dr. Natalie Petouhoff

Dr. Natalie Petouhoff (@drnatalie)

One of two PhDs. in the lineup, “Dr. Natalie” made quite a splash last year when she jumped from Forrester Research as a Customer Service analyst to take a role as “Chief Strategist” for Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading global public relations firms. In fact, Weber Shandwick was just named global agency of the year, for the second year in a row. In addition to being an actual rocket scientist, Dr. Natalie has written multiple books, is a university professor, and has led organizations in a wide variety of capacities as an analyst, consultant, and senior executive. Bringing together a depth of varied experience and a warm and entertaining style, Dr. Natalie will inspire new thoughts and ideas for you to take back to your organization.

Adrian Ott

Adrian Ott

Adrian Ott (@ExponentialEdge)

There’s not many people who have been called “Silicon Valley’s Most Respected Strategist”. Her consulting work is rooted in 18 years of corporate experience, and Adrian recently wrote and published her award winning book “The 24 hour Customer” which takes an intriguing look at why time is more valuable than money, and why and how to work with attention deprived customers. She’s appeared on Bloomberg TV, BusinessWeek, The Washington Post, and other major media for her research and insights about growing businesses in today’s exponential economy. Seriously good stuff. That’s all there is to it.

Dan Zarrella

Dan Zarrella

Dan Zarrella (@danzarrella)

Dan is the original Social Media Scientist. Beneath the hype and hyperbole of the social media evolution, one guy has a reputation of looking deeply into the numbers and producing insights and takeaways that often fly in the face of the mainstream cheerleaders. He knows why certain tweets gets retweeted, and when and why to post certain messages on your facebook page. He is the author of The Facebook Marketing Book and the Social Media Marketing Book. Based on his research, he knows what day and what time you should blog, or tweet. Hubspot is leveraging guys like Dan to fuel exponential growth. Take copious notes when you’re listening to Dan because they’ll translate to success and dollars when you’re back in the office.

Dr. Michael Wu

Dr. Michael Wu

Dr. Michael Wu (@mich8elwu)

Speaking of scientists, Dr. Michael Wu is taking some of the most complicated subjects underpinning the social web, social business, and social networks, dissecting them and then educating the masses with detailed yet digestible explanations of how things really work and how successful organizations can leverage networks to thrive. As the principal scientist of Lithium Technologies, a leader in Gartner’s Social CRM Magic Quadrant, and the pioneer platform provider for customer communities, Dr. Wu has access to a boatload of data, and he slices and dices it with precision. The output is keen insights into why some communities, organizations, and individuals thrive on the social web, and others don’t. Dr. Wu will teach you how seemingly far reaching concepts such as influence, gaming dynamics, and other factors can be key differentiators between marketing and customer service success and failure.

Becky Carroll

Becky Carroll

Becky Carroll (@bcarroll7)

What Becky Carroll is working on now could be enough for most people to complete in a lifetime. She’s a professor at UC San Diego, an NBC news correspondent, book author, consultant, and manages the Verizon customer community. She’s long been an author of one of the most popular blogs in the world focused on customer service and customer experience. Entertaining, multi-talented, and engaging, she understands the social world well, and knows what works with customers. Soak up her wisdom and add to your bottom line.

Christopher Carfi

Christopher Carfi

Christopher Carfi (@ccarfi)

Christopher started his blog called “The Social Customer Manifesto” in 2004! He saw today’s reality nearly a decade ahead of it’s time, and is now looking ahead at the future and the impact of the perfect storm mashup of social, mobile, and cloud computing and what it means for consumers, and in turn, the organizations that seek to earn their business. After nearly a decade at Anderson consulting, he founded Cerado, Inc. to provide software and services that enable businesses, organizations and associations to better connect and understand their customer and member communities. He recently joined Edelman Digital, the digital arm of the largest, independently owned communications firm in the world, Edelman, the publishers of the Edelman Trust Barometer, the subject of my last blog post.

Brent Leary

Brent Leary

Brent Leary (@brentleary)

Another guy who was early to the game, Brent literally started the social crm conversation on Twitter back in 2008 by creating the #scrm hashtag and bringing together a community of thousands to discuss the topic. He co-authored Barack 2.0, chronicling how Barack Obama leveraged Social Media on the way to the presidential election. Brent is the principal and founder of CRM Essentials, and is a well respected analyst, consultant, and thought leader. His thoughts are regularly featured in Inc. magazine, OPEN by American Express, and he’s been quoted in several national business publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and Entrepreneur magazine. Brent specializes in the SMB market and always has unique, relevant and actionable insights to share.

Laurence Buchanan

Laurence Buchanan

Laurence Buchanan (@buchanla)

Laurence heads up CRM and Social CRM within the UK for Capgemini (Technology Services). In his current role Laurence is responsible for Capgemini’s CRM & Social CRM go-to-market strategy and business development across all packaged vendors and industries. He is passionate about helping clients articulate their customer-centric vision and strategy, and enabling that through the smart use of technology. Prior to Capgemini, Laurence spent a decade with SAP, where he was global vice president for SAP CRM. He is a recognised authority and evangelist on CRM, Social CRM and customer experience transformation. He writes regularly on Social CRM at The Customer Revolution and is a member of the CRM advisory board at the Rotman Centre for CRM excellence in Toronto.

Matthew Rosenhaft

Matthew Rosenhaft

Matthew Rosenhaft (@mmrosenhaft)

Matthew Rosenhaft is the Principal of Social Gastronomy and Co-Founder of the Social Executive Council, an elite group of global CxOs, focused on leveraging social technologies in their organizations. He is a former marketing executive who specializes in Social Business, Marketing, and Architecture Strategy. He also has founded several early-stage venture-backed technology companies and holds a US patent for a mobile marketing technology. You won’t want to miss Matthew’s session as he unveils the research findings of his firm, and provides an ultra-tangible example of how companies can leverage social market research to provide insight into strategic customer focused initiatives. The subject of his research? SugarCRM. Come attend this no-holds barred session as Matthew unveils clues to Sugar about what the marketplace and prospective buyers think about them, and offers some suggestions about how they might respond.

That’s the lineup. What are you waiting for? Register here, save some cash with the #SCON040511 discount code, and let’s setup a time to connect while you’re there.

Who and what the world trusts

This week, Edelman published their 2011 version of the Edelman Trust Barometer. Over the past 4 years, I’ve begun to watch this report as it comes out annually with great interest. Below is the slide presentation.

Here are some of my observations.

Trust in Institutions in the US and UK are pretty close to levels of trust in Russia.
Wow. Enough said.

CEO’s aren’t all liars and trust in experts or credible sources is growing.
As more and more people have begun to share their voice in the digital realms, the deluge of information has once again created demand for filtering.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2011

People overwhelmingly trust people in the technology industry most
I find this a bit surprising and wonder if this is because in general people feel that Google, Apple, and (gasp!) Facebook have actually made their life better and easier?

Edelman Industry Trust 2011

Quality, transparency, trust is what leads to corporate reputation
Interesting that there is such a high correlation between trust and quality

Quality Transparency Trust Edelman 2011

Corporations should be good be good members of society
More than 80% of people in Germany, the UK, Ireland, China, US, Mexico, Indonesia, Canada, The Netherlands, Sweden and Russia believe that corporations should create shareholder value that aligns with societal interests as a whole.

Edelman 2011 Corporations Society

So what does this mean for organizations?

– Create great quality products and services
– Treat employees well
– Promote and share internal talent and expertise with the world to establish credibility and trust
– Aim to create systems of interdependent value distribution; Focus on shareholder returns, AND be mindful of local communities, and society at large.
– In the US, UK and some other countries, there is a trust leadership void. This means opportunity for the organizations who can excel in the items listed above.

The State of Social CRM: 6 Takeaways from #SCRMSummit

One of the worst snowstorms in the history of our Nation’s capital, the most flight cancellations since 9/11 (almost 6,000), and the closure and inaccessibility of a pre-booked venue were the circumstances surrounding BPT Partner’s Social CRM Certification Training, better known to the Twittersphere as #scrmsummit.

Despite the obstacles, a little publicized event at a brand new Westin Hotel in Herndon, VA brought together a mix of customers, vendors, and a large majority of the world’s thought leaders on the subject of Social CRM. In all, participants not only descended on the blustery white winterland from all regions of the United States, but also from Canada, Mexico, Columbia, France, The Netherlands, and India. It truly was a global event.

The #scrm Accidental Community
was almost completely represented with one largely apparent omission, Esteban Kolsky, who was grounded before he could leave his hometown due to flight cancellations. Esteban made his presence felt during the event and after by assembling the tweets which you can download here to get a sense of the flow of the event. Here are the links from Day 1 and Day 2

Influentials from major enterprise stalwarts like SAP, Oracle, and Sage mixed among the ranks of social darlings Radian6, Lithium, and Jive. Marketing automation leader Eloqua was represented. Open Source leader SugarCRM, Aplicor, RightNow and NetSuite, and the largest CRM company you may have never heard of: Sword Ciboodle were also amongst the participants. I’ve probably forgotten someone, so please let me know and I’ll be sure and add it to this post.

Forrester and IDC sent some of their best in Dr. Natalie Petouhoff and Mike Fauscette, respectively. Of course, you had #scrm creator Brent Leary.

CRM magazine, THE information source for the CRM industry, sent their very own editorial director, David Myron, to participate, and Michael Krigsman was there to remind everyone that the fundamental core dangers of enterprise IT failure still were in play. In addition, there were a ton of additional leaders and intellectuals in the room – too many to mention, but you get the idea.

As official and impressive as all that sounds, the simple truth was that it was a room full of incredibly seasoned, creative, talented, and intelligent people united by a passion and desire to understand and shape the future of business, and refine both their individual and collective brain trust of the rapidly growing segment called Social CRM.

Without another word, let it be said that there is only one person in the world that could have assembled a crowd like that in a period of just a few weeks – Paul Greenberg. Let it also be said that Paul clearly is so far ahead of most everyone in his knowledge, vision, and understanding of the societal transformation happening around us, AND it’s implication on the world of CRM and business in general. Finally, and most importantly, let it be said that I have rarely met a gentleman so genuine and authentic in his desire to help others, coupled with his capability to do so.

Two scheduled days turned into three, due to flight delays for most everyone, and even four or five days for others who are, even as I write this, still holing up in the fortuitous Westin Dulles Airport hotel.

There were several individual highlights that happened over the past few days which I am sure others will expand on, but below are 6 key takeaways from my experience:

1. Social CRM influentials are living what they preach. The culture of this new and evolving community rapidly lends itself to learning, sharing, improving, and constructively challenging each other. In short, the community is thriving, and is providing a real time experiment, that someday may ultimately serve as a model for the next generation enterprise. It’s a privelege for me to be a part of it.

2. Companies MUST align their entire existence around helping their customers accomplish what they are trying to do. The debates about E20, Social CRM, Social Business, and corresponding terms and definitions are largely irrelevant. In short, organizations must know their customers (based upon more than simple transactional data), partner with their customers, and align their ENTIRE value delivery chain around helping their customers meet their needs as quickly and effectively as possible. This is my charge to the C-Suite.

3. Customer Experience trumps everything: Map your customer experience. Focus your attention on accentuating your strengths while improving your troubled spots. Your customers will pay more, evangelize more, and stay longer if you are able to execute.

4. There is a great battle for business platforms brewing. Those that own the platform and the data will be well positioned. Previously unrelated vendors will suddenly find themselves in fierce competition. A silent race is under way. Look around for the potential platform owners, and position your business to be able to leverage the platform(s) and data regardless of who ultimately wins that battle.

5. The Social Web is on a collision course with the enterprise. Those companies that understand the coming changes and are positioned to harness the data and translate real time information into effective action will be those that experience the largest success over the coming decade.

6. Social CRM is still in its infancy. We understand just a smidge of where this will ultimately end up. Paul’s book (which the training was based on) is an amazing comprehensive “Bible” on Social CRM with numerous case studies of organizations who are doing things right, contrasted with some that aren’t. Buy it now. Read the nearly 700 pages, and then download the other online chapters. Then sign up for the second training event in May in Atlanta. Once you have done that, you’ll likely be with me. There are hundreds of questions yet to be answered, and thousands of problems yet to be solved.

I would love to hear your feedback, questions, and thoughts. The adventure continues.

Orange County Customer Experience Awards: Part 1

Over the course of the past couple weeks, I have been impressed by some local firms providing an exceptional customer experience. I’d like to highlight some of them over the next few weeks, and have thus begun the Orange County Customer Experience Awards. By the way, if you’ve recently had a great experience with a company, let me know. I’d love to hear about your experiences, and possibly highlight them here. PLEASE NO SELF PROMOTION.

While my experiences are with small, local firms, I believe enterprises should take note and evaluate how they might provide the same type of exceptional customer experience even if they are a $10 million, $100 million, or billion dollar company.

My wife and I recently had our second child, and after much research and online shopping for “dual strollers”, we decided to check out a local shop to actually see these modern engineering marvels that have ever bloated sticker prices, functions and features to see what all the hype was about.

We had been informally introduced to a local boutique firm called OC Travel Tykes that takes an expert consultative approach to strollers. I know, I know, it’s strollers for pete’s sake. But the captivating part was, once we arrived to meet Kelly (the owner and proprietor), she took the time to do a relatively exhaustive needs analysis on our lifestyle, asking a number of questions like “how often do we travel?”, “How often do we exercise?”, “How old is your oldest, and how often do they like to ride in a stroller?”, etc.

Once this initial conversation was completed, Kelly introduced us to each of the strollers that were candidates for our needs, and explained why certain strollers probably weren’t the best fit for our needs, ultimately allowing us to drive the conversation, while taking time to give background on each company, philosophy, parts and materials, frequency of returns, and pros and cons of each stroller.

The experience (regardless of the product) was one of the best I’ve been part of for quite some time. I kept thinking, “This is such a phenomenal experience. All things the same, I want to buy our stroller here.” A bit of perspective; This type of reaction happens in me about once every 4 years. Since I live and breathe CRM, I find myself being generally overly critical in evaluating vendors across the board.

Time passed, life is busy. Kelly politely placed a couple of follow up calls about a week apart.

Ultimately my wife and I stepped back into the “Stroller mindset”, discussed our options, cringed a bit at the price, and had made our choice. We planned on heading back to OC Travel Tykesthe following weekend to to pickup the stroller, but discovered that another major vendor was having a 20% off sale.

While I was impressed with the customer experience, I wasn’t about to pay a 20% tip for the experience. After all, customers are fickle, and though I hate to admit it, I fall into that category. I called Kelly and explained to her the situation. I wanted to buy from her. I would gladly pay a small premium, but I couldn’t justify paying 20% more. After some consideration, Kelly offered to meet the price, and candidly shared that it didn’t leave much margin for her since she operated on a relatively small volume, but that she was happy to do it.

THINGS THAT OC TRAVEL TYKES DID RIGHT THAT VERY FEW COMPANIES ARE ABLE TO DELIVER

1. Offered a unique value proposition
Strollers are typically offered through big box department stores with low wage employees with very little expertise is strollers. In addition, no one else that I am aware of offers the “life needs analysis” that we received.

2. Low Barrier to Entry
OC Travel Tykes offers “Try before you buy” options. I haven’t seen that anywhere else

3. Personalized Service and Flexibility
Kelly schedules one on one appointments the best that she can. This avoids the typical retail experience of talk for 2 minutes, and then off to help another customer. She also allowed price flexibility for a business case/proposition that made sense.

BENEFITS OF OC TRAVEL TYKES APPROACH

1. She earned our business
Now granted, she didn’t make a mint off of our purchase, but she did get compensated for her time and efforts. She moved one more unit for her vendor. Multiply that by dozens of customers and you begin to see meaningful profits.

2. She created a “Fan”
I am now blogging about my experience. Anyone who has been in sales and marketing will tell you that the best lead is a personal referral.

3. Free Marketing
Not only will I tell my friends and family, but also thought that this experience was noteworthy enough to write about it. I have no idea how many new strollers or associated products she might sell because of this word of mouth, but it is probably more than the one that I bought. Multiply this be a few others who comment personally or through social media, and one positive experience multiplies into dozens of sales

4. The potential for repeat business
The next time I need a stroller (God forbid we have triplets), guess where I am going to go first? OC Travel Tykes. They’ve earned by business. Depending on the longevity of the company, my kids could potentially buy strollers from there when they have kids. This is how great organizations are built.

Do you know of any other companies in Orange County (or elsewhere) providing exceptional customer experiences? Let me know. Share a comment.

How is your organization doing at personalizing experiences, providing compelling value propositions, and enabling raving fans to share their experiences through personal interactions and social media?

Sound off everyone!

Thanks again to Kelly and OC Travel Tykes for a great experience!

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