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.

In pursuit of True Relationship Value

Value Exchange

Relationships. How do we measure the value of a relationship?

It’s not an easy question to answer.

Customer Relationships. How do we measure the value of customer relationships?

We have an answer. But I think it’s the wrong one, or at the very least an incomplete one.

If we were all in a room together, many of you likely would have shouted out words like “profitability!”, or “revenue!”. Maybe some of the more advanced thinkers would throw out “CLV!” (Customer Lifetime Value).

The problem with this lies within the root of my first question: “How do we measure the value of a relationship?”

THE MEASUREMENT OF CURRENCIES AND CAPITAL

As companies measure the value of customers, we typically only look at Dollars, or Euros, or Yen, or whatever the local currency is. We limit our evaluation and ranking of our customers to how much capital they have contributed to our organization in the denomination of monetary currency. But aren’t there other forms of capital?

You’ve heard the terms: Relational capital, Social capital, Human capital, etc.

Identifying relational value should include all the components of the value created by that relationship, but today’s CRM systems typically only include monetary measures in identifying how much a customer is worth to the company.

What about those companies or individuals who have created value for the firm by:

(1) Talking positively about them
(2) Referring potential customers
(3) Referring potential employees
(4) Providing recommendations and/or being references
(5) Introducing them to new networks
(6) Adding value in other “hard to measure” ways

There is a whole set of value being generated and given to us by not just our customers, but many members in our relationship ecosystem. The problem is that we are not measuring it. Since we are not measuring it, we don’t know what to do with it, and are likely missing opportunities to create more opportunities of value exchange.

If people are only interested in money, we call them “golddiggers”. Shouldn’t our systems enable and empower richer professional relationships than this?

Three New Required Roles for your company: (#2) Social Anthropologist

In the first post of this series, we talked about listening for what people are saying about you, your brand, your market, your products and services, or market needs that your organization has an answer for. I intentionally didn’t dig into all the things you can do with that data – some are passive and some are active. The important part was listening. Turning that data into actionable insight is where the real magic can happen, but that’s a post for a different day. 😉

A couple of weeks ago, well known social superwoman blogger Amber Naslund sent this surprised tweet out:

Amber Naslund Tweet

It is very interesting indeed. But I think I have a good idea of where that hiring company is going.

Today, I’m going to turn our attention to the second required role for your company: The Social Anthropologist.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear that phrase, it immediately brings to mind sleepy images of some British guy talking slowly and methodically on a Sunday afternoon about some displaced nomads in the bush of Botswana.

African Tribe

But that’s not what I am talking about here. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Know your customer.

Today, most companies are doing a good job of profiling their customers based on transactional data.

(1) Who spent the most money with us this year?
(2) Who is forecasted to spend more money with us next year?
(3) What net new opportunities do we have?

We may be breaking this data down by region, SIC Code, etc. We may have history of our marketing campaigns, response rates, phone calls, web form submissions, email interactions, sales person’s notes. We’ve got it all; Mounds and mounds of data about our customers.

With all this data, we may think we know our customers. But we don’t. In fact, we know very little about them.

A more complete customer profile

Harvey Mackay set out decades ago with his Mackay 66 to learn more about his customers. It was a differentiator. This was the next step towards actually knowing our customers. Do something like this, and you’ll be heads and shoulders above most of your competition.

But what if we were to take it even one step further?

What if we were to not just know about our customers, but also about the groups of people that they were part of, who they interact with, how they interact, and why?

Wikipedia defines Social Anthropology the following way:

Social anthropology is the branch of anthropology that studies how contemporary living human beings behave in social groups.

Practitioners of social anthropology investigate… the social organization of a particular people: customs, economic and political organization, law and conflict resolution, patterns of consumption and exchange, kinship and family structure, gender relations, childrearing and socialization, religion, and so on.

Most of our customers don’t live on an island (unless they live in Hawaii, or Australia, or… Suwarrow). No, I’m not talking about that kind of island anyway.

Strive to learn about your customers (and prospects) in the context of their lives.

They (We) all have circles of friendships, professional relationships, patterns, etc. that we live by. We have patterns of decision making, and we all make decisions based on influence of those we know and trust.

Below is an example of the #scrm Accidental Community on Twiangulate compliments of Josh Weinberger

By understanding more about those who influence our customer’s decisions; who they interact with, how they interact, and why they interact, we may discover valuable insights that may help us to meet our customer’s needs better, and if your organization is prepared enough, even co-create solutions with them.

Conversely, we may also begin to understand who our customers influence, and why a successful sale might not only allow us to recognize revenue from that single purchase, but also a chain of purchases based on the influence and recommendation of our customer’s purchase decision.

These insights are not only valuable for each individual prospect or customer, but also in aggregate. By profiling groups or segments of our customer base (or our target market in general), we can potentially gain key insights into who is likely deriving the most value from our products and service offerings.

The internet is compiling a huge amount of data

Feed.ly knows that 65% of my facebook friends are male, their most popular music group is U2, and their most popular movie is Gladiator.

While this may not present immediate opportunity in your mind, the point is illustrated. By knowing who I talk to, what their interests are, when and how we communicate, there are numerous opportunities to know more about me, what my preferences are, and what opportunities exist to help me in my daily life.

IBM recently did a social network analysis project called SNAzzy , to accurately chart and predict lifetime customer value and churn rates in the telecommunications industry.

James Koblieus points out on his blog the huge impact social network analysis will have on data warehouse growth and there are plenty of other challenges that await us as we begin to analyze and make sense of this data, and integrate with our existing systems and processes.

This is a new area for me and something I’ll definitely be spending more time on. If you know of any additional resources, please send them over.

Your customers and prospects are sharing, talking, conversing, and transacting. Get to know them. Partner with them, and find more people like them.

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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A primer on Social Media: Listen, Build, Engage, Share

If you are just familiarizing yourself with social media and how to leverage it in your organization, Becky Carroll on the 1to1 media blog does a nice job of summarizing the benefits of Social Media, and how companies can leverage tools like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  She does a nice job of separating the “cool factor” and hype from tangible benefits that can be reaped.

Has your company leveraged Social Media to deepen customer relationships?Do you have plans to? What question or concerns to you have?  Soundoff.

Guest Blogger Becky Carroll: Social Media Builds Customer Relationships

One of the most common questions being asked right now is this: “What should my company do about social media?” As more and more businesses are jumping in and creating corporate profiles on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and flickr, marketers are feeling the pressure to jump on the bandwagon. Some of these marketers plan to use social media as a cool set of tools to build awareness about their company. However, it is much more than that. Social media can be an integral part of a strategy to build customer relationships.

Let’s look at how social media can be used to deepen customer interaction and increase customer loyalty.

Social media builds trust.
It allows companies to be perceived as more human. You aren’t just talking to Comcast; Frank Eliason is there for you. You want to know more about Zappos; Tony Hsieh tells it like it is. Customers don’t want relationships with faceless companies; they want relationships with other people. The use of social media hastens the trust-building process by putting people instantly in touch with other people–critical in these days of corporate bail-outs and public uneasiness. Trust is the main component of a strong customer strategy.

Social media builds community.
Customers can’t easily rally around a website, as there is little interaction there; but they can rally around a brand’s presence on social media. What makes these communities so powerful is that many of them have been built and sustained by a brand’s fans. Fiskars, which makes scissors, encouraged the formation of a scrapbooking community. However, it is their customer ambassadors, or Fiskateers, who are responsible for driving the conversation and inviting others to join in. National Instruments uses its community, powered by social media, to bring together business customers to share technical information with each other, which is then used in National Instruments marketing materials. These communities are examples of likeminded people coming together and interacting around a common purpose; in this case, a company’s products and services. Ongoing customer interaction and engagement such as these increase loyalty and ultimately rate of purchase.

Social media increases word of mouth.
It allows information to be shared peer-to-peer at light-speed around the globe. As a result, customers are turning to social media ratings and reviews to research an organization’s offerings before making a buying decision. This is especially true in the B2B environment, where a large number of B2B buyers are participating actively in social media for business–reading blogs, writing reviews, watching user-generated videos, and joining social networks (source: Forrester). All of this enables the rapid spread of company news and information, as well as the sharing of customer success stories. Organizations that enlist their customers to help evangelize their products and services via social media find those customers to be fiercely loyal and willing to share their experiences with others who are like them. This in turn builds trust, as well as the customer base.

Social media enables two-way conversations.
This is the gold in the equation. Where companies used to have to rely on one-way email blasts, advertisements, and direct mail pieces, they can now interact directly with customers via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and a myriad of other social media tools. More is required than simply hanging out a corporate shingle on these sites, however. Companies need to fit these conversations into their overall customer strategy and marketing communications plan. In so doing, they will be able to gain deep customer insight from these new online interactions, including an understanding of customer behaviors and needs, as well as online reach and influence.

Getting Started
The best way to begin using social media is to stay quiet. Yes, social media enables great customer interactions, but first it is important to do some listening. Once a company has spent time monitoring conversations–about the company, competitors, the industry–only then is it truly equipped to begin participating in conversation. This is the best way to be relevant when stepping forward and inviting customers into your virtual lounge to get to know them, their likes and dislikes, as well as their personal side. The foundation will be laid, and rich customer relationships have every opportunity to blossom from these online engagements.

via Guest Blogger Becky Carroll: Social Media Builds Customer Relationships – Think customers: The 1to1 Blog.

1 to 1 Marketing’s 2009 Voice of the Customer Survey Results

1 to 1 was kind enough to share the results of their 2009 Customer Survey.  In this are some expected responses. Others are perhaps a little more surprising.  At the end of the day, the results reinforce what we all know to be true.  Over time, success in business  is ALL ABOUT CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

This Is No Surprise – Or Is It?

1to1 recently conducted its 2009 Voice of the Customer Survey. We asked the question: What is the most surprising thing you learned from customer feedback in the past year? I found some of the responses, well, surprising. What do you think?

Here’s what some respondents had to say:

Customers like to be heard
Given a chance, customers will be brutally honest about how a company treated them and ways to improve [the experience] for other customers.

People wanted to be communicated to more.

Customers desire information from us, other than our direct product and service areas, e.g. partner and community information.

Customers want to be part of the overall strategy of our company.

They were willing to spend time helping me refine my offering.

Their willingness to share their feedback and make suggestions for improvement.

Customers are willing to speak if we ask them.

How willing customers are to talk about their personal experiences, challenges, and problems.

How easy it is to really listen to client concerns.

Customers Like Us!
What a great job our customer care team is doing when handling customer inquiries.

We do better than we thought!

We do a better job of satisfying customers than we realized.

Most of our customers actually like what we are doing.

Or Not…
Our company is sometimes hard to work with.

How difficult we are to contact if you don’t know who the right person is.

Customers really didn’t like our hold music. We saw a 3 point improvement in voice CSAT by simply changing the music.

We had a lack of knowledge about customers and what they are looking for.

Often the things we think we do badly are often not even on the customer radar screen. The things we don’t really regard as important are!

That we overcomplicate our selling model–it is really about engagement versus selling, and leveraging that engagement has been powerful!

Listening Equals Learning
Price is not the determining factor when customer buy.

In an overzealous drive to deliver the best and greatest experiences it is often the basics that we don’t deliver on that crack the foundation of the customer relationship. Customer relationships are like a game of golf: The most amazingly played shot won’t win the round, but a horribly executed one can ruin all.

The same service was differently appreciated in Asia or in the Americas or in Europe.

They are close to the issue, good or bad, and bring a view that at times we do not consider.

The importance of knowing the customer by name.

Our customers were using our website to get more information about us.

How some competitors have caught up with us in replicating our “unique” product mix.

What some of our employees do to break our operational procedures.

“I didn’t know you did that!”

Listening Also Equals Results
There is an indisputable link between improvements in customer experience and its link to bottom-line results.

It’s great to stop and hear what [customer] are saying; this improves our product, which translates to higher prices and revenue.

Listening to customers is a simple way of cutting costs by fixing customers problems or issues.

via This Is No Surprise – Or Is It? – Think customers: The 1to1 Blog.

Social CRM: Use it and Implement it properly

Michael Maoz at Gartner shares with us in his blog post Social CRM: Made for the Cloud, AND Requires care/feeding a good reminder that any technology, whether social networks, crm systems, or your iPhone is only as good as the strategy and execution behind it. As we collectively race to harness, leverage, and integrate social media into our business models, it is important to always keep the customer at the forefront and engage them in a meaningful, intentional way.

Here is an easy way to advance your abilities in understanding the customer’s intent: leverage communities. Most of you work hard to move every transaction to something automated: voice response, email, online self service, kiosk, ATM – and in so doing lose the ability to understand what the customer might be trying to tell you about their wants and needs. But a social network, properly observed, analyzed, and maybe even participated in more on that piece in another blog can yield insight into how you as an organization need to change if you are going to win customer loyalty.

Just tossing up a social site, or giving customers the tools to interact, won’t help. You will be heading towards a more Social CRM that will require the same discipline that most of us failed to maintain with our previous pre-social networks CRM initiatives. Without corporate commitment, you might as well be handing out sharp knives to a party of three year olds – someone’s going to get hurt.


Without the focus on the customer, social media and social CRM become the latest fad and tech gadget until the next generation comes along. Focus on your customers. Learn to listen, observe, and interact with them in a way that adds value.