Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Get Your Company To Know Your Customer

Before starting graduate school, I worked for an organization* that had an internal communication vehicle called the Buzz, which published several times a week on the company's intranet. The Buzz reported on company projects, new associates, new procedures, etc. Its purpose was to keep associates in the loop on the goings on of the company, and hopefully help them feel more engaged with its growing infrastructure.

Often, buzz stories centered on new client work - the unique demands of the project, the innovative services we were applying, and so on. But as I think about it, we never really got to know the customer. Sure, we would be briefed on the client company, but did we really know the actual people we were working for?

Often, when a consumer interacts with a faceless company, there is an emotional detachment that can lead to behaviors that would be regarded as unacceptable in a face to face encounter. Think about a time you wrote a scathing communication to an underperforming company (I'm guilty of it...this past summer Kia got an 'earful' from me in a very long, very detailed letter). And in a state of absolute frustration, consider how simple it is to harshly criticize a product feature on an organization’s community forum or feedback page.

This concept unfortunately also works in reverse. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to let a deadline slip by (but it was just a day or so, you tell yourself) when the only interaction you've had with a client is over email? Or, when in a meeting with your coworkers you spoke in a careless or rude manner about a challenging client? After all, the client doesn’t really know what they want, do they? Before you know it, the impact of those detached behaviors could cost you a client relationship.

I think there is a great opportunity with corporate intranets to introduce associates to actual customers, the people they are working for one on one. Through a simple interview, an organization can provide a face to a project or customer - for example, a profile on Mark Smith, his role within his organization, reasons why he chose to work with your company or buy your product. Companies would better position their associates to provide an exceptional experience, namely because they would feel a greater degree of accountability when relating to a person rather than a corporation.

*I used to work for WD Partners, a firm specializing in delivering an exceptional prototype and rollout experience for national retail and restaurant clients.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Communities I Love and Who Are Doing It Right

Here is a random sample of some companies who I think are doing a great job engaging with their customers.
This site is Stacks and Stacks' blog devoted to the topic of organization. Admittedly, I'm not really familiar with the parent company (and I'm only a wannabe organization freak). However, what I love about this blog is that it's not a glorified Stacks and Stacks ad, but is a genuine resource for people who are crazy for organization. When I first came across it, almost accidentally, I was impressed that this seemingly modest, not overly impressive (that sounds harsh, but that's what I thought) company decided to connect with this niche market in an engaging way. I like that.

J Crew
I LOVE J Crew. Even if they sometimes make it hard, like when they tried to push plaid pants a couple of years ago. Anyway, they are so together in their marketing efforts. For me, it all starts with a direct e-mail notification (how did they know I'd cave last month and buy a sweater because they gave me free shipping?!). Then it moves on to the personal shopper experience (a new service they are promoting, and I ate it up, even if I did spend [a ton] more than I was going to). Down to the J Crew debossed notecards at their catalogue phone desk, where I can jot down my order number (no talls in the retail stores, unfortunately). I can name a dozen reasons why J Crew excels in the user experience, but I encourage you to check out their website and find out why yourself.
I will be the first to admit this site is ugly and not intuitive. But despite the ugliness, has an absolutely thriving, cult-like user forum. Women interested in baby wearing spend hours, racking up hundreds, even thousands, of posts, discussing baby carriers and the joys of babywearing. Beyond product reviews and debates over the best carriers, there is an extremely active for sale or trade forum where mama's all over world sell to each other via pay pal accounts. What I love so much about this site is how involved and enthusiastic the members are, and how so much of the content is user generated. There was a very brief period where I was part of the cult, and this site dispelled any ideas I once had that social networking was either for the tech crowd or for kids. Anyone and everyone can find a place online to belong.

Friday, November 23, 2007

We're Still In the Early Stages of Social Media Marketing

I have been spending a lot of time getting familiar with social media concepts, and exploring how companies are using social media as part of their marketing strategies. I've come to the conclusion that while there is a lot of enthusiasm around social media and its potential, companies are still in the early stages of exploration. Though they have been around for years, blogs, RSS feeds and user forums seem to be the primary tools being used in the social media sphere. This is not a bad thing! It takes time to do these things right, as well as for users to start feeling the community love.

But I suspect the reason not to jump too far ahead is because many companies are not sure how to target, communicate, or measure strategies and tactics in other social media areas (some examples include Facebook, Gooruze, Satisfaction). Heck, many companies struggle to figure this out for their corporate websites, intranets, and now blogs, etc.

And while people are increasingly spending more time online, the younger generation is still the primary users of social media tools, encouraging the older generations to follow suit (see this report, by way of Many companies with an older customer may find there is less urgency to move marketing dollars to social media campaigns.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Why You Don’t Want a Perfect Customer Satisfaction Score

I was recently introduced to the concept of 91. 91 is the theoretical score out of 100 that a business person would want from a customer satisfaction survey (10 points for 10 questions each). Why only 91? Why would you not want to exceed expectations on every facet of your business? Logically, you want 10 points out of 10 for every question, right?

Wrong, says the president of a major, global, industrial manufacturing company.* This person says the one question you want a 1 out of 10 on is about price. The question “Is our price competitive with your alternative suppliers?” or something of that nature, should garner your company a flunking score.

But if your customer satisfaction survey returns a 91, it means you are exceeding expectations everywhere else, and hopefully, that your customer prefers to use you to your competitors for the value you bring to the table. A score of 91 also means that your company is not leaving money on the table.

According to the McKinsey book, The Price Advantage, a 1% increase in pocket price (the price a company actually receives after all discounts) can result in an 11% increase in profits, which is more improved profitability than any cost reduction strategy, including reducing variable and/or fixed costs. Furthermore, if that 1% is justified, volume should not decrease. The moral of this story: pricing is critical to a profitable business. The right price may not be where your customers want it to be, but they will pay it if your product or service offers a value that exceeds the price tag.

*I heard this person speak in a Pricing class I am taking, and I'm not sure if he'd like his customers to know that he wants to make them cringe over the price!

Monday, November 5, 2007

You Get What You Pay For?

You’ve heard the old adage “you get what you pay for,” but I’m not so sure that is true anymore. With the internet, product pricing is very transparent, highly accessible, and quick and easy to find. You can go to many product websites, review sites, or, if you're so inclined, to a brick and mortar store and get advice, guidance, recommendations on a product. At an physical store you can actually hold and test a product, see the actual size, etc. Then you can go back home, free of stress and sales people and crowds and search around for a bit to find the best price. In a couple minutes, you can have that product paid for and sent to your home. Now to the kitchen for a cookie!

So are you getting what you pay for? This used to mean that if something was a higher price, it was generally assumed to be better. But now, you just might have found a great deal. Maybe there is a site that had overstock of a product. Maybe a store is having a random Tuesday sale. Maybe you found your product selling at a discount rate for one day only on Maybe you found it on ebay. Maybe, you emailed a variety of retailers what you were willing to pay for a product, and the one that got back to you first with an acceptance for that price got your business (I did that for my Kia minivan…a new 2006 cost our family less than a used 2005! Not that I like Kia, as I’ve come to find out, but that’s a different story).

This evolving pattern of consumer behavior has changed the way I view products. It used to be that I felt somewhat superior having a product that cost more than a competing product. With the proliferation of “retailers” carrying identical items, I have a harder time using product price to estimate value. The more personal, interactive, participatory behaviors of web 2.0 are shaping how we define worth, forcing companies to communicate brand in a proliferation of context driven ways. (Brian Oberkirch describes this as edgework, a fascinating concept which I am still trying wrap my head around.)