So, what's ahead for the customer experience?
Having just participated in a thought-provoking conversation on SAP Radio's Coffee Break with Game Changers on customer loyalty and retail, I feel an intense need to share with you my observations about what I see when gazing into the future of the customer experience.
I came up with 11 observations and would love your reactions...
1. Time Pressures are More Intense Than Ever for Customers
I consider time - or the perceived lack of it - to be a critical influence for all of us. There's more to do in the same amount of time - more email to read, more social updates to react to, more obligations. We have less time off and away from always-on devices. Even my 12 year old daughter is feeling pressured by homework, sports and life. Having 'free' time is the ultimate luxury. If we're feeling time pressure, we know our customers are, too.
Creating a memorable customer experience must address saving time for our customers. In other words, we must figure out how not to waste their time with unwanted or irrelevant messages, spam, complexity, obfuscation... You know, all the stuff that drives you crazy when you're on the receiving end.
>>See How Not To Get More Business: 7 eMail Retail Experience Horrors!
2. Stay Focused; Avoid Multi-tasking; Deliver a Memorable Experience
Staying focused not only allows us to do more with time, but it also means being better able to listen and learn from the information (and data) customers share with us. As we have more (text messages, emails, calls, interruptions, demands, etc.) thrown at us, it's oh-so-easy to lose concentration and get sloppy.
Multi-tasking is perhaps the biggest culprit - and fallacy - given that it's impossible to do multiple things without one suffering. Think driving and texting... Multi-tasking while interacting with customers not only leads to mistakes, but it also signals disrespect and a willingness to waste their time. That means having to stay focused, managing distractions and priorities and knowing when to get yourself out of rabbit holes.
>> See 11 EXPERT TIPS TO HELP YOU BE MORE PRODUCTIVE IN 2014 from Fast Company.
3. Be Sensitive to your Customer's Mobile Experience
Mobile is redefining the notion of ubiquitous, especially smart-mobile. Not only is it with us wherever we go, but it is changing how we make use of technology to save time, to socialize, to be productive, to do work, dare-I-say-it... to multi-task.
For our customers, mobile means personal protection against being taken advantage of. It can your business ally if you make use of what it offers - access to information, images, reviews and social proof. Don't forget that mobile is also a direct communication device; if you can establish your value, you may be invited to make direct contact.
>>I've embedded Mary Meeker's insightful State of the Internet 2013 presentation below.
4. No Matter What, Offer a Human Customer Experience
This is a big deal. The more systems we have in place, the more we use technology to solve problems, the greater the likelihood that - as businesses - we forget the human touch and fall back on looking at the customer experience only from a data perspective.
Business can't exist without relationships. Relationships fall apart when the human element disappears. Customers have become even more attuned to this as their expectations continue to be shaped by online experiences such as Amazon where the human touch expresses itself through thoughtful attention to past purchase patterns, an intuitive user experience and responsive customer support systems.
For your business, spend time walking in your customers' shoes. Ensure that your IRL experience - be that a store, a showroom or a business office - is welcoming and consistent with the experience you've created online. Is your website content helpful (think blog) and relevant to your visitors? Is it written in an engaging and conversational way? Are you human when you interact on social networks? Do you respond?
By the way, the more attention you pay to this, the better off you will be as search algorithms (think Hummingbird) evolve toward how people actually speak and ask questions. Ultimately, you are looking to connect with customers. What better way to demonstrate trust and build relationships than by showing how much you care and truly helping prospects make the right decision.
>> See How to Lose IBM Customers: Preposterous Verizon Customer Experience.
5. Figure Out How to Offer a Visual Customer Experience
With the smart mobile trend comes an unprecedented opportunity to visually record what's happening around us not only with snapshots, but also video. And then we can share them via email or -even better - social networks.
Look at how visual networks are growing: YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Pinterest... Even the traditional social networks have become more visual: Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and notice how Infographics bridge the gap between visual and abstract data.
As humans, we respond to visual images. We like to share images, too. Images help convey meaning to different forms of content. Think how important it is to see images during a PowerPoint presentation, how valuable it is to include a face on your LinkedIn profile, how choosing the right photo helps your blog article make its point. Visuals are part of storytelling.
How can you do more? How might you use visuals to communicate what you do, what your business does and how you help customers in a fun, compelling way?
>>For ideas, explore how companies such as Urban Outfitters use the different visual social networks to share ideas. Note how they customize content for each network.
>>See How Visual is Your Online Customer Experience?
6. How Can You Anticipate Your Customer's Needs and Questions?
That said. Don't ignore the data. Do be smart with it so you can identify patterns which enable you to better meet the needs of your customer. Spend time truly understanding who your customers are, what their needs are and how you can help meet those needs.
Think about the journey your customer takes before actually purchasing your solution. What questions come up? Which pages on your website matter? Which blog articles attract the most views? How much time does the process take? Figure out how to stay connected with visitors throughout that purchase path with useful information. Don't be shy about using automated marketing which has been fine-tuned to your personas.
>>See How To Develop a Buyer Persona for Content Marketing and Why Bother With Social Media Marketing Strategy?
7. Develop a Healthy Relationship with Your Customer Experience Data
At the same time, don't let all the data paralyze you. Let the data guide you; let it help you validate assumptions about customers. The better you understand your customer personas, the more meaningful the data will be and the better you can implement it in your content online and your interactions offline. If you can't find meaning in the data, go back to your customers and observe what they are doing. Be practical and focused on what your ultimate goal is.
This healthy, grounded relationship with data will serve you well when the data disappears. For example, have you noticed how "keyword not provided" now represents the majority of the organic traffic to your site? Customers may choose to do the same.
>>See When Keyword (not provided) is 100 Percent of Organic Referrals, What Should Marketers Do? - Whiteboard Tuesday from Moz' Rand Fishkin.
>>See TrendWatching's Trend Briefing "No Data" below and the Kroger article.
8. The Physical Retail Experience is Evolving. Are You Evolving, too?
Retail is about the customer and creating an environment where a person can fall in love with an item. It involves the senses; it requires trust; it must be convenient and pleasant.
The online retail experience is rapidly changing expectations: search makes finding specific items easy, not to mention not physically demanding. Comparison is possible; it's available 24/7 at the convenience of the shopper rather than the merchant. A good online experience educates, entertains, builds credibility and speeds up the buying cycle; it also remembers and learns from past shopping.
What that means is that the physical experience must evolve. It can't duplicate what's online. However, it can address what is currently impossible online: a physical experience that delights and adds value. Look at the Apple store: it is experiential, filled with serendipitous juxtapositions including learning spaces and collaborative areas.
>>See How IKEA Creates an Apple-Like Retail Experience and from Arnold Waldstein Shopping redefined…mobile popup stores.
9. Be Your Customer's Experience Advocate
Part of being human is being intensely focused on your customers and their experience. Be ready, then, to be your customer's experience advocate. Constantly look to streamline and improve. When attitudes deteriorate, be there to refocus associates on the greater mission. Show respect for customers; don't abuse your access to their information; protect their data; walk in their shoes.
>>See How To Create Email Marketing Customers Welcome? Show Respect!
10. Deliver One-Unified, Integrated Experience to Your Customers Across All Channels
When customers interact with your business, they expect to encounter one unified and integrated experience. Whether they leave a message on your phone, go to your website, walk into your store or office, interact with you on a social network, they expect to deal with the same company. That means: the same look/feel, the same voice, the same policies, the same commitment... even if the person dealing with them is not an employee.
When they don't, they become suspicious, irritated and not as likely to do business with you.
>>See Retail Experience Issues & Paco Underhill.
11. Do Good! Life Is Short. Time is Limited. Have Fun.
Yes! There's so much more of this taking place. Take Tom's (see ‘Buy One, Give One’ Spirit Imbues an Online Store) or how Converse shoes sponsors aspiring musicians in a Brooklyn studio, building a studio named Rubber Tracks. Or Zappos revitalizing downtown Las Vegas. Organizations committed to a vision and sharing its passion with customers.
Not only is this fun, but it makes for great storytelling and the creation of strong customer loyalty.
>>See 7 Customer Experience Insights from Charity: Water.
Trends Resources Which Have Added Fuel to My Consumer Experience Observations:
- Romanticizing the past
- Concern about water issues
- Disintermediation and a backlash against the "faceless middleman"
- Awareness that "the idea of multitasking as a virtue is a fallacy"
- "Ostentatious ownership of stuff [is] an encumbrance... Real luxury nowadays is time."
- Mobile is about to go mainstream
- Niche sites will make an impact
- Blogging will remain the #1 way to generate new business --> Yes!
- Spammy content will be eliminated everywhere
- Google+ will grow faster than ever
- Triggered emails will increase sales
- Ambassadors and influencers will hold the power
- Image-centric sites will continue to rise
- Video consumption will increase
- Sharing will be more important than ever
- Marketing will be about adding value
- The move to mobile
- Better retargeting
- The rise of paid social ads
- More visual content
- Better assessments
- Includes 33 Digital Marketing Facts and Statistics Infographic
- Guilt-free status
- Crowd shaped
- Made greener by/for China
- No data **
- The Internet of caring things
- Global Brain
I'd love your take on the 11 observations I detailed about the future of customer experience. What are you seeing with your own customer experiences as well as how you see your customers behaving?
Image Credit: LawandBorder.com
How much do you think about the customer experience you've created? Not just the one you offer via your store or showroom or office, but also the one you offer online. Is it one that expresses to your visitors and customers how much you cherish them?
To inspire you for 2014, I've assembled a list of the top 6 Flooring The Consumer articles from 2013 and included snippets from each.
"The online customer experience has become more efficient for customers than traditional retail experiences. Have you noticed? Isn't it time for reinventing and reimagining it? ..."
Did you know that "...dirty restrooms lead to lost business?... Another study - Restroom Cleanliness Impacts Facility Perception - states that "86 percent of U.S. adults equate the cleanliness of a restaurant's restroom with the cleanliness of its kitchen. The survey also revealed that 75 percent of U.S. adults would not return to a restaurant with dirty restrooms. Regardless of industry, clean restrooms directly impact a business‚ ability to attract and retain customers..."
"At this year's 2013 BRITE Conference, Kaaren Hanson, Vice President of Innovation at Intuit, shared deep thoughts on Creating a culture of rapid experimentation. Given my passion for the customer experience and innovation - and my personal experiences using Intuit products, I was spell-bound!
What I enjoyed most was the emphasis on making customer focused innovation everyone's responsibility. It's collaborative, infectious, productive and profitable; it involves rapid and ongoing experimentation. (Customers, by the way, can be internal as well as external.) It's also something that everyone in the company can focus on thanks to 2 days per month of unstructured time which can be banked for later use..."
"In anticipation of Surfaces 2013 and the panel discussion I am moderating titled "Social Media in Action: Retailers Share Best Practices", I got to talk to Chris Morrissette, marketing coordinator for FLOFORM Countertops.
I first 'met' Chris after publishing the FloForm Countertops Blog: Social Flooring Index Review. What a treat to get to speak to him and learn more about FLOFORM Countertops' social media marketing and the person behind it all...."
"What do you think is ahead for the customer experience? Think back on 2012 and what resonated. Now look ahead with the benefit of a few weeks of 2013...
Back in November, BuyerZone's Sylvia Rosen asked for 2013 predictions as well as the best blog post of 2012 for The End of the Year Edition: The 12 Best Blogs of 2012 (with Flooring The Consumer in position #7!)..."
"There's nothing quite like a trip to Las Vegas to make me appreciate sensory overload and the customer experience. That, in turn, has me wondering how best to recharge and renew given the onslaught of sensory stimulation..."
Your Turn: What's Ahead for 2014?
What are your customer experience plans for 2014? What will you focus on? What will you change? Let me know.
Thanks for reading. I wish you great success in the New Year!
Lots of people are still asking themselves is participating in social media worthwhile for a business. Are you in that camp? Have you been wondering why bother?
If you are, let me share with you 3 reasons for taking social media seriously and for moving ahead with a social media marketing strategy for your business.
3 Reasons For Bothering With Social Media
1. It's where your customers are hanging out, interacting, learning and determining whether you are worth doing business with.
2. It's an important part of how businesses get found online.
3. It's a powerful means for building relationships with customers.
That said, especially for a business, social media alone isn't enough. However, you don't want to ignore it. You need to integrate it into your overall business plan and develop a social media marketing strategy so what you do on social media supports your overall business objectives.
Let's explore each reason in more detail.
1. Social Media is where customers hang out, interacting, learning and determining whether you are worth doing business with.
Whether it's on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or a forum, or even contributing reviews on Amazon, people are hanging out on social networks. Consider it the virtual water cooler where you can get news, updates and professional tips.
There's nothing new to that; we're social beings. We now have social places to visit online for perspective and to share stories. As with the IRL (in real life) water cooler, if you don't hang out, you miss out.
For a business, this public, virtual water cool is an unprecedented opportunity to gain (and also exchange) insights and information in a setting far more realistic and credible than what used to only be available through focus groups.
It's also messier and a lot more visible, hence the need to pay attention.
To put this into perspective, here is what GE Capital Retail Bank discovered when it conducted its Second Annual Major Shopper Study:
"... More than 80 percent start their search process online from home – up 20 percent from last year – and spend an average of 79 days (depending on the category, between 40 and 137 days) gathering information before making a major purchase."
They are doing so with the help of technology as the findings support:
Consumers say digital tools empower them to compare prices and find the best value.
Shoppers search for the following when they visit the retailer’s website (in order of importance): warranty information (66%); pricing (52%); specs/model information (51%); payment/financing information (47%); sales/discounts; availability; and shipping information.
Imagine the implications for your business given all of the research taking place online (also see Inbound Marketing and ZMOT: Perfect Together?). If you aren't participating or paying attention, your business misses out. Not to mention that your reputation is definitely at risk!
As Clara Shih and Lisa Shalett write in The Perils of Being a Social Media Holdout, published on the HBR Blog Network,
"People are talking about you, your company and your brand, and your stakeholders expect you to be paying attention in real time, especially when they have a customer service complaint or positive feedback to give. You decide whether to participate in this conversation or not, but at least you are aware of what is being said... If you don’t tell your story, others will tell it for you."
2. Social Media is an important part of how businesses get found online.
The same HBR Blog Network article cautions that when you aren't visible, your credibility suffers. It's the flip side of being absent from the water cooler (bolding is mine).
"The social Web is changing how people communicate and access information. ...People are looking you up. Not having a presence means you are not easily “findable” and perhaps leads people to question whether yours is a credible business. People are increasingly turning to social networks as the easiest way to get their questions answered. Potential buyers are going online to research products or services before they purchase them, or new contacts before they meet them. On average, buyers progress nearly 60% of the way through their purchase decision-making process before engaging with a sales representative, according to Corporate Executive Board (link is PDF). If people are looking for information about you or your business, what are they finding?"
These are critical risks. If you don't bother with social media, your business will suffer! Social profiles offer distinct benefits for getting found online:
"A social page or profile at its most basic level enables you to provide accurate and helpful information about what you or your company does to your intended audience. Additionally, social media pages typically appear with prominence in search results — without these online presences, relationship managers and organizations risk not being present in the search results when an interested prospect goes looking."
3. Social Media represents a powerful means for building relationships with customers.
Ultimately, the tools of social media enable powerful relationship building with customers. Imagine what the telephone made possible... Social media takes 'reaching out and touching someone' to a new level. As The Perils of Being a Social Media Holdout explains,
"Social media is perhaps best thought of as a set of new and innovative ways for businesses and customers to do what they have always done: build relationships, exchange information, read and write reviews, and leverage trusted networks of friends and experts."
For that reason alone you need to integrate social media into your overall business strategy.
Speaking of which, here are a few thoughts about building a social strategy from Q and A: What Your Social Strategy Needs to Have:
Be committed to "put(ting) down your megaphone and stop interrupting people with ... brand messaging monologues"
Be focused on how to, "As (you) engage with people in dialogues, ...earn their trust to ...build long-term meaningful relationships"
Be thinking how to "generate compelling content that’s relevant and timely enough that people will want to share it"
Remember, relevance matters to your customers, often in real-time. The stronger the relationship with your customers, the easier it is to stay abreast of change and remain relevant.
Finally, now that you're convinced that you must bother with social media marketing, the best way to develop a social strategy is to,
"Start small. Chose the particular social network where you believe you can most effectively reach your audience and start providing relevant content your customers and prospective customers will find useful.
Social marketing isn’t about volume, it’s about relevance. When people find content relevant, they appreciate the information and are likely to become a fan or follower. At that point, brands can begin to engage them, and encourage them to participate in meaningful dialogues about what’s important to them — not what’s important to the brand. It’s essential to establish trust and listen during these dialogue, so one-to-one relationships can be developed over time, and brands can exceed customers’ expectations."
How do you plan to get started? Let me know.
I wish you, your friends and families a most wonderful Thanksgiving on behalf of all of us at Simple Marketing Now!
In anticipation of the holiday, I re-visited some of the past Thanksgiving articles I've written and came across several highlights that I thought you might enjoy.
Curious about Wild Turkeys?
From Kinnelon Critter File: Wild Turkeys (written in 2008!), interesting details about Wild Turkeys:
Did you know that Wild Turkeys are native to North America? And that in the early 1900s the turkey population was as low as 30,000. Today, it is closer to 7 million birds.
Wild turkeys are omnivores, occasionally eating frogs and snakes.
Turkeys' "heads and necks are colored brilliantly with red, blue and white. The color can change with the turkey's mood, with a solid white head and neck being the most excited."
If you are fascinated with wild turkeys, check out Cornell University's All About Birds: Wild Turkey summary which includes a recording of turkey calls.
Did you know that Benjamin Franklin wished the Turkey were the national bird over the eagle? He considered turkeys more noble...
Note: if you do come across a wild turkey (we have one lurking around our church), make sure the turkey can't see its reflection! See Wild turkey trashes New Jersey home, causes up to $7,000 in damage.
Curious About Thanksgiving?
From Happy Thanksgiving! written in 2007, here's a link to The History Channel's History of Thanksgiving site. (There's also a sweet video of my daughter when she was about 6 saying thanks.)
I recommend to you my all time favorite Thanksgiving story by Art Buchwald.
Happy Thanksgiving from Simple Marketing Now!
What do you have planned for Thanksgiving? How will you celebrate?
Many thanks for reading this blog. I wish you a wonderful holiday.
Are you familiar with Charity:Water? Founded in 2006, the organization has reimagined how donating money for a worthy cause (in this case, ensuring that clean water is available to all) is done.
Having recently created a Charity:Water campaign in honor of my dad, I was struck with how intuitively friendly, talk worthy and fun Charity:Water has made giving and contributing to a cause. In fact, I came up with 7 customer experience insights for you to consider for your business - whether it's a charity or not.
Why this customer chose Charity: Water
Charity:Water isn't a total unkown to me.
In 2010, Age of Conversation 3 (a collaborative book that bloggers from around the globe each contributed a chapter to) dedicated all sales proceeds to Charity:Water.
However, I became considerably more familiar - and impressed - with the business model after hearing Charity:Water's founder, Scott Harrison speak at INBOUND13....
And learning that Charity:Water has embraced inbound marketing (and HubSpot), storytelling and "radical transparency giving donors the security and comfort of knowing that every dollar they donated would directly benefit their mission" to completely reinvent charity.
haring the impact of your organization’s funds raised may not have been a high priority in the past. But with the growing debate of overhead vs. impact, supporters are looking for the results of their donation more and more. Charity: water has woven this concept into their model from the beginning.
For instance, founder Scott Harrison shared the GPS coordinates of the first wells that were built to everyone that attended his birthday-party-turned-fundraiser, where he raised the first $15,000 dollars for charity: water. From that, Dollars to Projects was born -- a program that “tracks every dollar raised, showing you the water projects you helped fund for people in need.”
After charity: water designates an individual’s given funds to a project, they email a custom project report with pictures and results. Here is an example of a water project report a supporter might receive:
How many charities have you experienced which show you exactly where your money goes and confirm back when the project is completed? Here is Charity:Water's track record of completed projects.
Furthermore, how many charities funnel 100% of your public donation to the cause - one of my mom's stipulations - let alone let you know what the percentage is?
Ironically, charity organizations face stiff competition. They are numerous (over 1.5 million non profit organizations in the U.S.). All compete for discretionary monies. Although many are worthy, plenty are questionable (see Charity Naviagtor Top Ten Lists). Not too different from the for-profit world. How then to stand out?
Charity: Water has done so by embracing what their customers value - transparency and simplicity - and sharing the stories of the people being served.
My 7 Customer Experience Insights from Charity:Water
Although Charity:water immediately came to mind when I was thinking about how best to remember my dad - in addition to transparency and 100% donation to the cause, lack of clean water is something we saw firsthand living in Africa - I had to justify my recommendation to my family. I researched other charities and was appalled at how difficult setting up a memorial fund in the middle of the night was. Most of these other charities facilitated individual contributions online, but not a campaign to welcome donations around a common theme or reason. When that was possible, it required a phone call and several days to set up.
I sent emails asking questions of Charity:Water and other organizations. Charity:Water was the only one to acknowledge immediately via automated email and shortly thereafter via personalized email responding to my question. I'm still waiting for responses from the other organizations.
My donation to Charity: Water immediately produced a tax document and a welcome message from the organization setting expectations about how my donation would help and when I could expect to hear about the completed project I had contributed to.
Given that memorable customer experience, 7 insights come to mind that you might apply to your business.
1. Make it as easy to do business with you as Charity:Water is to donate to. Make sure your website is helpful and educational. Have tools and resources available online. Figure out how to include a self service element for those looking to complete a task in the middle of the night. Charity:Water offered several banner images to use for the campaign page I set up. I was able to easily customize the writeup for my campaign to make it relevant to my family.
2. Make it talk-worthy! Several contributors to the campaign set up for dad have commented about their experience. Charity:Water has made it easy to learn more via fabulous visuals on its website. Check out the locations of completed projects. I was delighted to notice so many in Ivory Coast where my family lived.
3. Respond consistently and respectfully to your customers. Make no fake promises. I asked Charity:Water if I could stipulate that funds only be contributed to projects in Africa. Here is the response I received:
Thank you so much for reaching out to us! We work with more than 22 implementing partners around the world to assess and determine areas and communities in need of clean water and sanitation. We choose the countries where we work based on water scarcity, poverty, political stability -- and the availability of strong local organizations in which we can partner with for major change.
Please note: charity: water can’t accommodate requests from donors to work in certain countries. We honor the chance to be good stewards of your fundraising efforts – and we take it very seriously. You can be sure that 100% of the money you give or raise will go to a community that’s very much in need.
4. Lose no opportunity to educate. Charity: Water's entire site is about education. It educates via photos and videos and compelling facts about the need for clean water. Education creates opportunities for conversation. It also builds credibility.
5. Have spotless followup. I can't say enough about how important this is for building relationships with customers.
6. Take care of the details. For a charitable organization, it's important to immediately generate a tax form. For your business, it may be about creating a checklist for preparing for an in-home consultation or for a business audit. Anticipate your customers' needs; think through what they might encounter and address those details.
7. Make it about the greater project and not about you. Who wants to hear about how wonderful you and your organization are? Rather, share your big picture vision. Invite others to participate and share their perspectives. Help others feel good. Imagine turning your birthday - traditionally all about you - into an opportunity to give back!
If you'd like to experience Charity: Water, I invite you to do so by exploring the campaign I set up to remember my dad, Martin J. Bergin.
Then, come back and add to this list of customer experience insights from Charity: Water.
Have you noticed that there's more stuff than ever being pushed out via email, blog articles, social updates, etc. that pretends to be about connecting with customers when it's really just content without relevance?
What's worrisome is that those sending all of that stuff out think that they are creating a connection with the recipients.
Let's be real. Pushing tons of messages doesn't do much for developing a relationship - especially if those messages don't hold much interest.
Because to build a relationship with customers, prospects or fellow professionals, you need to embrace content + context. That's how you create relevance. If you don't, there's no relevance and definitely no relationship.
It's becoming a bigger and bigger deal. Customers are getting inundated with messages they aren't interested in. Mostly because they receive too many messages about what companies want to say, rather than about what they want to hear about. That's a major disconnect. It's traditional marketing pretending to be content marketing and it creates clutter and noise.
As the messages pile up (and clog their email inboxes), recipients have a choice. Ignore, unsubscribe, or mark as spam. None of which do much to help businesses generate business.
Sadly, generating mass messages that have little of content + context is a sign of companies getting caught up in numbers - in publishing stuff for the sake of publishing it rather than to add meaning or insight. It's blog articles that barely skim the surface of a topic. It's a dozen daily emails about a sale on an item you've just purchased and won't be consuming for another 2 years. It's website updates that go on and on about how wonderful your company and people are. It's a retail store which pretends to be socially committed, yet won't respond to customer questions or complaints.
There is a better way to build customer relationships. Think content + context!
For those committed to building relationships based on customer relevance, content marketing remains ever more important. They are the ones publishing valuable resources and how-to articles which acknowledge customer questions. They are the ones sharing insights about the greater conversations taking place, and the ones encouraging and supporting others. They do so by blending content with context and connecting with customers because of shared passions, interests and insights.
It's not that foreign. When you meet someone for the first time, you listen carefully for what's of interest to them and what overlaps with your interests so you can share meaningful conversation. The more meaningful, the more memorable the interaction. The more memorable, the more likely you are to continue the conversation over future interactions.
So, in the digital world, if we're tring to create customer relevance, we need to make an effort to understand who our customers (or prospects, visitors, readers and connections) so we can offer them truly remarkable content which has meaning for them. If it does, we have a chance at engagement.
That effort - BTW - signifies that we are open to building those relationships and willing to interact as individuals in person, via Twitter chats, and in blog comments.
The corporate relationship conundrum: connecting with customers as people
The greatest challenge for organizations is figuring out how to connect with customers as individuals when the corporate preference is to focus on the greater entity (aka the brand) and minimize the individual. In this socially networked world, the more we are comfortable with people and the individual entity, the more powerful the connection for the business.
With that in mind, I'd like to call attention to professional individuals I admire who do an incredible job creating content + context. They constantly elevate the conversation and encourage us to think about creating customer relevance and determine how to build those meaningful relationships without which we are nothing.
- Nora Depalma from O'Reilly/DePalma who constantly sets the stage for social engagement on every social network she engages on.
- Arnold Waldstein who, with every blog article he publishes, inspires his readers anew with ideas about community and relevance.
- From across the pond, I really appreciate how Phil Pond connects via social networks while making each connection feel really good.
- Toby Bloomberg (aka Diva Marketing) constantly adds meaning to connecting online. She recently posted Social Media "Pioneers" Tell Why to capture why many early social media participants got started. (I'm honored to be included.) Whenever Toby publishes this type blog post, she reminds us of what is at the heart of connecting socially: content + context.
- Veronika Miller from Modenus has created a powerfully relevant venue with BlogTour which brings together designers and industry sponsors. The result: strong relationships, relevant content, shared context.
I'd love to hear your reactions to the content you receive. Is it brilliant? Does it miss the mark? Does it make you want to connect? Do you find it relevant? Let me know in the comments.
Image Credit: On romanace, relevance and rankmaniac found via What is the key to relevance in email marketing?
Have you noticed how much more visual the online customer experience has become?
From idea books on Houzz, to boards on Pinterest, to Facebook's timeline format, to YouTube's new art channel guidelines and Google+ - the presentation is increasingly visual.
And that's not all!
Visual Online Customer Experiences Surround Us!
Retailers Must 'Think Visual' from Chain Store Age (hat tip to Don Aronin from Tile Outlets of America for the article) makes the point that:
"Consumers are becoming increasingly visually oriented in their daily online lives, and expect online retailers to play an active role in providing a visual Internet experience. According to a new study from The e-Tailing Group and Invodo, two in three consumers watch product videos some or all of the time when they encounter them, with close to half (45%) having watched five or more of these videos in the past three months. Product videos are especially popular in categories with complex items that require education and demonstration, such as consumer electronics, computer hardware/software and automotive."
Video makes for a powerful visual online customer experience. Check out what Zappos has to say about creating 50,000 product videos! Here's how Wunderlist demonstrates its app online.
And, yes, there's a mobile component to all of this which creates the opportunity to integrate what's online with what happens in real life and create value for customers.
Visual Online Customer Experiences Benefit Business
What I find fascinating about this visual online customer experience is that:
1. Commerce, shopping and buying have always been about engaging the senses, with visual being the strongest and most translateable online. Mobile takes visual to a new realm, allowing businesses to connect with customers in real-time when the connection is most relevant and appreciated.
2. Visual transforms the relationship between companies and their customers. Building relationships is about engaging the senses and emotions to establish trust; visual tools offer a powerful means for doing just that. Imagine how much more credible a piece of content coming from a real person with a photo is vs. a cold, generic brochure - especially if that article focuses intensely on a customer's needs and questions! (See How Do I Write Good Blog Articles? Focus on Your Customers!).
3. In a world where content has exploded (think paradox of choice), we're looking for ways to absorb information faster so we can quickly do triage and determine what's worth evaluating. Our brains process images faster than text, so we can sift through information efficiently without having to engage intensely until we find what we need. Zappos Labs: The Frontier of Online Retail is Curation refers to the importance of 'curated collections' to allow for "easy discovery of relevant fashion" with visual playing an important role in communicating relevance. Curation BTW allows us to demonstrate expertise as well as how customer-focused we are, too, as it requires understanding who the customer is.
Businesses Need a Visual Strategy for the Online Customer Experience
Gone are the days of casually and hapharzardly making use of token images. Instead, businesses need a visual strategy which deliberately goes hand-in-hand with online content so each reinforces the other and what the business offers!
Embed meaning into every visual your business uses. Rather than use stock photography, why not show your business associates and customers in action? BTW, the videos that Zappos creates feature Zappos employees demonstrating products.
Embrace videos to explain your product, services and company. And, then, be sure to share that video on your website, in blog articles as well as on a social network such as YouTube. These don't all need to be heavily produced videos. Experiment with letting your people answer customer questions.
Note: one of the challenges of visual content is that it isn't easily discoverable by search engines unless you identify them and tag them. For that reason, it's important to use descriptive <alt> tags for photos and to name photo files with something more descriptive than "dsc007-123abc.jpg". When you upload videos, make use of all of the space available to describe what your video is about; identify your video with a descriptive title, too.
A Visual Online Customer Experience Offers Benefits In-Store and Off-line via Mobile
What about physical stores? What about bringing these visual tools into the store environment? Arnold Waldstein details how mobile popup stores are redefining shopping into a mobile commerce mashup in Shopping redefined... mobile popup stores. Talk about visual customer experience creating an engaging, curated and effective retail experience through mobile devices.
What have you noticed? How visual is your online customer experience and how do you integrate that in-store?
I'd love to hear.
Image credit: Tablica do badania wzroku z reklamy Vision Express on Flickr.
If you've spent time in New York City, you're probably familiar with Duane Reade, the drugstore chain. Your memories of that drugstore chain may be similar to mine: intensely utilitarian, not necessarily fun and certainly not a destination for relaxation or therapy. Not exactly the kind of retail experience to inspire, engage or generate much enthusiasm for.
In fact, probably one more likely to resonate with the tales described in I Hate Duane Reade: Service from Hell...
However, on recent trips through Port Authority in midtown Manhattan, I've encountered a new Duane Reade. One with wide aisles, a welcoming food section, and much more ambiance than I remember. One with a surprisingly pleasant retail experience...
The transformation was such that I was eager to read The Re-Education of Duane Reade: A Drugstore as Retail, Therapy and learn more about the reinvention of the Duane Reade retail experience.
The article offers a fascinating overview of the turnaround of Duane Reade - which ranked dead last in customer satisfaction to one where customers say it's a place for "a mom moment -- a me-time moment" or "they are like a literal urban oasis" to describe it.
How did Duane Reade reinvent its retail experience?
It's still a Duane Reade drugstore and communicates as much so that customers recognize that they are in a Duane Reade. (The same goes for the organization's website.) What's new includes:
- Wide aisles so shoppers relax and stay longer (i.e., be sure to channel retail anthropologist Paco Underhill!)
- Focus on relaxation with warmer fluorescent lighting, landscape windows and perfumerie.
- Make it a triumph of phsychographics, "a research field specifically tailored to the psychological states of customers in retail environments" - aka focus on your buyer personas and make them very comfortable.
- Note the blue, green violet color scheme because these are calming, peaceful, happy colors in marked contrast to the previous red "agitating" color palette
- Different branding to cummunicate product quality (check out the Food and Drink options from the Duane Reade website).
- An ambiance of safeness
- And, a vastly improved social media presence, including a Twitter feed which promotes local events (e.g., local readings at Housing Works) and has developed a particularly strong following for a NYC-only drugstore!
The article specifically refers to the VIP NYC bloggers contest which, according to Collective Bias, "drove over 47,500 brand mentions, resulting in 195MM impressions of Duane Reade content online at a CPM of $1.28 to generate the same number of impressions, and achieve similar reach in traditional media, the retailer would have had to purchase over $4.9 MM in ads at a $25.13 CPM from USA Today, for example... " Not bad to have savvy brand ambassadors on your side!
(Also see Shopper Marketing's Duane Reade Now More Social.)
Although not specifically detailed in the article, Duane Reade's website also creates a valuable retail experience - albeit online. The website includes health information relating to food, exercise, drugs as well as links to community support groups.
Be sure to check out the new Duane Reade stores on their website. You'll find photos, valuable information and surprises. Growler bar, anyone? In fact, the local focus reminds me of another retail experience which embraces the character of individual neighborhoods... By the way, I really like on the Duane Reade's home page the invitation to speak using one's native tongue (see 'we speak your language'). The revamped slogan is "NY Living made easy".
What I find fascinating about Duane Reade reinventing its retail experience
- How important to success having a robust online presence, via an engaging and informative website and through social network participation.
- The focus on having a physical presence which is memorable for good reasons and offers more than just a convenience - here relaxation and therapy
- The willingness to address issues head on
- Creating a group of brand ambassadors to help get the word out and also obtain ongoing feedback.
What's your reaction? How might you apply what Duane Reade has done to your physical retail experience and to your online presence?
At this year's 2013 BRITE Conference, Kaaren Hanson, Vice President of Innovation at Intuit, shared deep thoughts on Creating a culture of rapid experimentation. Given my passion for the customer experience and innovation - and my personal experiences using Intuit products, I was spell-bound!
What I enjoyed most was the emphasis on making customer focused innovation everyone's responsibility. It's collaborative, infectious, productive and profitable; it involves rapid and ongoing experimentation. (Customers, by the way, can be internal as well as external.) It's also something that everyone in the company can focus on thanks to 2 days per month of unstructured time which can be banked for later use.
Intuit's innovative culture of rapid experimentation recognizes that many right answers exist. All of which can be reached faster and more cheaply than by focusing only on one right answer (aka the traditional approach). Hanson referred to simple lightweight experiments - as opposed to agonizing for elusive perfection. It's best to get started. Key to getting started is having the right size team, aka "2 pizza teams". That's 4 to 5 people; any more and that's too big a team.
Hanson refers to this culture or rapid customer experience focused innovation as Design for Delight (note D4D in images below). It is based on the principles of:
- Deep customer empathy for inspiration.
- Rapid experimentation with customers
- Going broad with ideas to go narrow
Intuit's Principles for Design for Delight
This deep immersion into the customer's world enables Intuit to identify issues, problems and pain points. (Note the questions to ask in Design for Delight: Going on a Customer Safari and Creating Customer Journey Lines.)
The end result of Design for Delight and rapid experimentation is threefold: delighted customers, engaged employees and growth. Not a bad combination! In 2008, Intuit employees engaged in 4 experiments; in 2012, this had increased to 1300+ experiments encompassing all departements.
Ms. Hanson shared a success story which you see captured in the visual below titled Mobile Bazaar. The goal of this program was to create a new business that would help farmers be successful. The vision consisted of figuring out how to raise farmer incomes by 10%. The team examined several options, including an ebay marketplace. Of primary concern was how to bring greater transparency to the farmers' marketplace.
As a result of deep customer empathy and research, coming up with many ideas to consider and rapidly experimenting with customers, the team came up with a solution: texting the prices of produce being sold.
In the BRITE Conference presentation, Kaaren Hanson ended with three marvelous lessons:
1. Fall in love with the problem rather than the solution
2. Scrappy doesn't = crappy
3. There's no right answer other than getting started
For added perspective on the presentation, I recommend the following resources:
(BTW, you'll enjoy this overview article for perspective on the entire Brite Conference 2013: Brands, Innovation, Technology – Pt 1, with a section on Hanson's Culture of Rapid Experimentation presentation.)
What do you think about Design for Delight and what Intuit has created? How do you focus on your customer experience? How do you nurture innovation? Could you see embracing a culture of rapid experimentation?
Let me know in the comments.
Do you enjoy having the wool pulled over your eyes when you are shopping, while trying to make an informed purchase decision? I don't and suspect you don't either. That's why I want to explore why customers want transparency using a recent healthcare example.
I admit, choosing healthcare is extreme since, for most consumers, it hasn't been a typical shopping item unless the procedure isn't covered.
However, healthcare is morphing into one where the purchaser must be as actively involved as s/he would be in buying business IT services, college tuition, a home and other equally high price point goods or services. The involvement inevitably requires research, comparison of options and an understanding of price and benefits. In other words, transparency.
Searching for Transparency for Healthcare Procedures
Let's say I have to purchase an X-ray or an ultrasound. What about a colonoscopy? How much will it cost?
Do you know that you cannot get a straight answer before the procedure? Either from the imaging facility or from the healthcare insurance company. (Interestingly, you can search online for ranges. Why can't the facilities doing the procedures or the insurance companies covering the procedures do the same?)
How are you supposed to determine how procedures add up against your deductibles? How are you supposed to manage your expenditures? How can you evaluate different levels of insurance coverage and possibly buy more?
At the same time, how can you trust the physician recommending those procedures when he or she can't (or won't) provide insight into the financial implications of the recommendations?
Or when you realize that pricing structures vary depending on whether you are insured or not insured...
As a customer spending significant resources, I want transparency. Don't you?
Do Big Healthcare Companies Understand the Need for Transparency?
My healthcare insurance provider has invited me to participate as a research panelist (note: no benefits other than being able to share these stories with you :-)) most recently to provide feedback on various marketing treatments in anticipation of the launch of Health Exchanges.
I found the experience frustrating. I ranked my preferences - ad/brochure images, a tagline and a website. Although the tagline was gobbledygook, other than rank it, I couldn't provide feedback. I couldn't interact and experience the website to honestly provide perspective on how well it communicated helpfulness. Although asked to participate, I don't think the company truly wanted to hear suggestions or concerns about the heart of the messages to be communicated.
After all, when you invite feedback and perspectives, you need to listen and then respond. That's one of the challenges with social media tools and digital marketing. The process forces transparency... even when the feedback isn't what you expect or want.
Healthcare Evolving Toward More Customer Transparency?
As Putting an I in Healthcare from Strategy+Business suggests, these pressures are building more intensely because "The days of the disengaged health consumer are numbered. Consumerization will transform healthcare systems, involving individuals as never before in the management of their own care."
Healthcare can be overwhelming especially when the purchase process is so complex. The article states "The Consumers Union studied the ability of consumers to select a health insurance plan, reporting in January 2012, “Almost all participants were stymied in their desire to identify the best value plan among those offered. While their concept of value was sophisticated, participants had little ability to assess the overall coverage offered by a plan.” The Affordable Care Act is a first step in demystifying the process for consumers, but they will need sustained guidance and support."
Customers will also need transparency.
You'll notice observations about insight-driven offerings such as "life stage–based products that are tailored to match consumers’ evolving health and financial needs as they enter the workforce, start families, or prepare to retire."
You'll also find intriguing examples from Whole Foods and Walmart as well as talk about "compelling end-to-end customer experiences."
The article ends by detailing the stages of new framework for patient engagement, which - to me - isn't possible without transparency:
- Inform me
- Engage me
- Empower me
- Partner with me
- Support my e-community
Customers Want Transparency Not Just in Healthcare!
Healthcare is an expensive purchase and one that is particularly murky. However, there are plenty of other murky ones that customers try to wade through. Is your business one of them?
Customers want transparency. They want to understand what they are buying, what the cost is and what the implications of the purchase are. Given how dependent we are on customers, shouldn't we offer them what they want?
How do you help your customers better understand options? How do you provide them with transparency? What benefits have you observed?
Image credit: Shopping cart of Flickr.