How Your Digital Touch-Points are Harming Customer Relationships

patient_exam I wrote a post a while ago about the problems your email subscribers are going through.  I see the problem has now spread to many digital touch points you have with customers.

Many of these touchpoints offer confusing,  unclear, or incorrect information that is damaging your customer relationships.  So let’s examine the patients, determine a diagnosis, and provide a cure.

The Exam

  • A webinar invite from a “Marketing Company” that is offering a free trial webinar (they usually charge for their webinars).  The invite asks me to confirm participation, but there are no clear directions or a link to confirm.  The invite also has the incorrect time on the email invite, and then I find I can’t even logon to the webinar once I learn it is happening.  And they want me to pay the next time?
  • A very popular blog that I subscribe to via an RSS feed aggregrator sends me a daily digest email that only shows a message that this popular blog has changed, while all other subscriptions show at least a portion of the latest post. Too much other content to read so I rarely click on the link to go read the blogpost.
  • Clicking on the “Change My Email Address” link at the bottom of newsletters only offers the ability to cancel my subscription instead of change it. Fine, I’ll just unsubcribe then.
  • Downloadable file names are meaningless and don’t help me remember the content or the business it came from. When cleaning my desktop it’s just easier to just drag it to the recycle bin.
  • Social Media apps that I add to my profiles or pages are just too hard to use or don’t do what they claim. “Remove App” is very easy to click.
  • Complex sign-up and security procedures for content that isn’t that important. Required fields such as date of birth and security questions for email newsletters just doesn’t make sense.  I’ll just move on to less secure content.

Possible Diagnosis

  • There are no standards for customer communications.
  • There are no quality checks of the content.
  • There are no customer experience checkpoints or testing.

A Cure

  • List all the different ways your business communicates or touches customers (blogs, downloads, email, RSS feeds, social media, website, webinars, etc).
  • Determine the call to action for each touch point.  What do you want the customer to do at each touchpoint?
  • Test each touchpoint and not just once – for quality, calls to action, and customer experience. Test them on a regular basis because a change in your website may impact any or all of the touchpoints you didn’t consider.
  • When testing, do it from the customer’s perspective. Does it allow the customer to do what they want and what you want them to do?
  • Here’s the key – don’t have those who created the touchpoint/process test it themselves. You are too close to it and will often miss critical issues. Have someone else test it who is not at all related to your department, or have trusted colleagues or friends outside your company test your process.

Hopefully this will prevent the spread of this disease, and keep your business and your customer relationship healthy.

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The Pepsi Challenge – Lessons Learned & How It Relates to Your Business

coke-vs-pepsi There is an excellent article in the most recent issue of Colloquy titled The Neuromancers.  It attempts to answer the question “Is there a buy button inside the human mind?”  The article looks at the Pepsi Challenge from 1975, where consumers showed a definite preference for Pepsi over Coke in the blind taste test.  Almost a decade later and with declining market share Coke launched New Coke in 1983, which is was an utter failure.  But if market share was declining, and New Coke’s taste was closer to the preferred Pepsi, why did it end in disaster for Coke?

Lesson Learned for Coke

According the Colloquy article, Coke underestimated the power of their decades of marketing.  What mattered to Coke loyalists was “their emotional connection to Coke as a quintisential American brand.”  Coke consumers attached more than just the taste of the Coke to their buying decision.  They attached the powerful images and memories associated with Coke campaigns over the years.

… subjects who knowingly preferred Coke were recalling, perhaps subconsciously, positive memories and impressions from Coke’s advertising campaigns. Most subjects said they preferred Coke; but given a blind choice, many of them actually preferred Pepsi.  Cultural influences have a strong influence on expressed behavioral preferences…”

According to Sergio Zyman, Coke’s CMO at the time, as detailed in Guerilla Marketing Research:

What went wrong?  The answer was embarassingly simple.  We did not know enough about our consumers.  We did not even know what motivated them to buy Coke in the first place… After the debacle, we reached out to consumers and found that they wanted more than taste when they made their purchase decision.  Drinking Coke enabled them to tap into the Coca-Cola experience, to be part of Coke’s history and to feel the continuity and stability of the brand…  As soon as we stared listening to them, consumers responded, increasing our sales from 9 billion to 15 billion a year.”

What is the lesson for your business?

Most business can’t afford the marketing budget of a Coke to build emotional attachements over generations.  What you should learn here is that your customers don’t buy for just one reason. There are many factors that go into the purchasing decision.  Price may be most important, or it may not.  Features, customer support, convenience, quality, and the overall customer experience also weigh in on the decision.  It will be different factors for different types of customers.

How do you know what is most important to customers?  Do what Sergio Zyman did and start listening to customers, watch their behavior, and don’t always rely on a blind, single-feature test.

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Verizon vs. Earthlink – The Good, The Bad, and The Policy

good_bad_ugly.jpg  Here are two very different experiences I recently had with Verizon and with Earthlink.  Since they are both in the communications industry, it’s worth looking at what one got right and what one got wrong, very wrong.

Verizon – The Good:  I have a smartphone manufactured by UT Starcom that caries the Verizon label.  I was having trouble synching my phone with MS Outlook.  I called UT Starcom and they suggested downloading a recent software update. I did, and once it was installed the voice-recognition function stopped working.  A call back to UT Starcom left the head of tech-support at a loss for a fix.  I asked if I could download the original software that came with the phone.  He said that was not possible, so I was now stuck with a phone missing a funtion I used all the time.  Next, a call to Verizon to see if I could download the original software from them turned out to be no-go as well.  Here is where it gets good.  The Verizon agent offered to ship a refurbished phone with the original software at no charge and I would receive it in one or two days!  In return, I needed to return my old phone to them and the box that my new phone would come in would have a pre-paid shipping label.  A refurbished phone was not ideal, but I would get what I wanted, at no charge, in a day or two.  My problem was resolved with one call. Now that’s good! 

Earthlink – The Bad:  I’ll spare you all the details.  Partly becasue they are lengthy, and partly because I don’t want to relive the nightmare.  My initial call to Earthlink was to request an upgrade to their 6.0 Mbps broadband service from the 1.5 Mbps service I had.  One week after placing the order I had heard nothing. So I called to follow-up and  found out I wasn’t close enough to their switch to qualify.  Why couldn’t they tell me that when I called the first time?  Over the next several weeks I had to place a series of calls to get downgraded back to the 1.5 Mbps service, and to get a refund for the new modem that one senior rep offered me at no charge as compensation for all the hassle I experienced. (By the way, the only reason I got to this senior rep was due to a survey I filled out that gave them the worst marks possible)

Earthlink – The Policy: The first two times I called about reversing the modem charge I was told it was their policy to require a long-term contract to get a modem at no charge.  I told them the original rep did not mention that policy.  At this point I had spent about 11 hours of my time to get all my issues resolved.  I finally spoke to a senior billing rep who reversed the charge for the modem!  Ahh, so much for their policy. At this point though, I was beyond rescuing.  It just takes a while to change Internet service so I have to stay with Earthlink for a little longer.

Things Worth Noting:

  1. When it comes to customer support, do your best to have some idea what each possible resolution will cost, in time, materials, and word-of-mouth.  I imagine Verizon knew that the cost of sending me a refurbished phone would be less costly than the resources required to handle the multiple calls I would make into customer support if they hadn’t.  Also, their first-call resolution stats will look good, and they will have a happy customer.
  2. Customer Surveys – With Earthlink I must have made 20-25 different phone calls.  I recived 3 email surveys asking me how the call went.  Sounds like they send surveys out randomly.  However, I noticed that the survey requests only showed up following calls that seemed to go OK from the reps perspective.  Survey requests should either be sent to all your customers, or be sent in randomly.  Letting customer support reps decide when to send a feedback requests isn’t random, and it will certainly bias your results.  Especially if reps are compensated on survey results.

PS – Please send me email to my gmail address – my earthlink one will stop working shortly.

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What IS the Starbucks Customer Experience?

cup_of_beans.jpg  I’ve been asked by Becky Carroll of Customers Rock!, who is joining Jay Ehret (Marketing Spot) on a project to track Howard Shultz’s efforts to get back to focusing on customers and the Starbucks experience.

For my contribution, I got to thinking if Howard feels the Starbucks experience has slipped since he left the company, what really IS the Starbucks experience?  Because if you are going to improve it you have to define it and be able to measure it.

It seems the Starbucks experience is about these 3 P’s:

  1. People– the baristas and their connection with customers. 
  2. Place – the physical stores, their design and aroma
  3. Product – the beverages, food, and merchandise

I set out to see what I could find from Starbucks and Howard himself on how the Starbucks experience is defined.  Using their press release, and interview from Fortune magazine, and this post from the Starbucks Gossip blog, I’ve come up with the following to give us some into what the the Starbucks experience is all about:

  • (People & Product) Customer connection and a fresh, hand-made beverage.  The newer automatic machines (Verisimo?) that replaced the La Marzoccos are faster, but “blocked the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista.”  It seems that the personal connection between the baristas and the customers is the core of their experience.
  • (Place) The aroma.  “… the loss of our people scooping fresh coffee from the bins and grinding it fresh in front of the customer, …”  Some say the sale of hot food has detracted from the coffee aroma that customers attach to Starbucks stores. 
  • (Place) Store design.  Design of their stores had taken on a more streamlined feel to gain efficiencies.  But that resulted in the stores losing their charm and uniqueness.  Starbucks has “stores that no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores vs. the warm feeling of a neighborhood store. Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter, no longer reflecting the passion our partners feel about our coffee.”
  • (Product) Coffee related merchandise.  As a purveyor of fine coffee and tea, Starbucks has struggled as of late to get their merchandise to reflect their brand and their history. “Some stores don’t have coffee grinders, French presses from Bodum, or even coffee filters.”

This is just a sampling of what makes up the Starbucks experience.  I’ll keep you updated on our project as we gain more insight and see progress at Starbucks.  I’ll close with this quote from Howard Schultz that best sums it up for now:

“Bottom line is we can’t exceed expectations of shareholders unless we exceed the expectations of customers first. And we do both by inspiring our partners and refocusing them on the customer.”

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