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Monday, March 30, 2009

"Blowing Away the Competitors"?

In the spring 2009 issue of 1to1 Magazine in an article titled “Who’s at Risk”,,   Natalie Petouhoff discusses the harsh realities of today’s business environment.  She tells us that,


“Never before has the evidence been so clear about what companies must do, and do immediately, quickly, and smartly. They must deliver a stellar customer experience.”   She explains that those who act now can “blow away their competitors”.  She further claims that “The best place to start is in the contact center”.


It feels like some consultant or expert is always telling us what we must do to improve the Customer Experience so that we can differentiate our service from the competition and thereby retain more of our current customers, gain more share of their purchases in our category, and generate more positive word of mouth.  I have no disagreement with those objectives and I do believe that their achievement will lead to a more profitable business.  What I don’t understand is how Dr. Petouchoff decided that the universal answer will be found in the contact center – or for that matter how other experts are telling us that the place to start is with training of sales personnel, or store re-design, or a new CRM software application.


Every business is different in the level of service they are providing today, in their internal strengths and weaknesses, and in the expectations held by their customers. It strikes me oddly that virtually none of the experts telling us how to improve the Customer Experience have bothered to ask the Customers what they think.


It’s kind of strange considering that in the past these same experts were telling us that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.  If that’s true then I’d suggest that rather than be told by experts where to start that every brand individually needs to make the effort to do some research and find out what their current customers expect and which changes are the most important to them.  It might well be that for your business and your category that fixing something in the call center may well be very important. It also might be that only a small percentage of customers ever interact with the call center, or that those who do think that compared to the competition you’re doing just fine.  


I’m not talking about another customer satisfaction measurement effort that seeks to monitor performance against internal operations.  The Customer Experience for most services is just too broad to be thoroughly covered that way.  Instead I’m recommending a process that looks at touchpoints, identifies those of highest value and lowest delivery compared to the broader competitive frame, and then actually identifies where the Experience is lacking and which company’s performance the customers think you should be able to match.  In other words a process that actually allows your own customers rather than the gurus to tell you where you must spend your time and your money if you wish to improve retention, share of wallet and word of mouth.


2:16 pm edt          Comments

Friday, March 20, 2009

When AIG changes its name

Everywhere I turn I see news of AIG, the taxpayer financed bailout, and the executive bonuses.  But that’s not the side of AIG I want to you to think about right now.  I look at the world from a Customer Experience Management point of view, and I wonder how this will all impact the future of their consumer business.


My guess is that as soon as things calm down a bit the company will quickly and quietly change the name under which they sell their auto, home, identity theft, life insurance and financial services products to consumers.  The current name will just carry too negative a burden for any Value Equation to survive.  And without high perceived value there would be lost customers, reduced share of wallet spending, and more negative word of mouth – the conditions for business failure.


Some marketing professor could conduct some great research and make a name for himself/herself in the Customer Experience world.  The key questions would be: How long will it take consumers to forget the AIG name?  How soon will consumers forget that (new name) is really the same old company with largely the same executives?  How big a downturn in customer retention will be created by this government bailout and executive bonuses?  How significant will the reduction in the ability to cross-sell additional services to existing customers be?  And so on.


Hopefully someone will take the opportunity.  The time to establish the baseline and plan for action is now.

9:43 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Two brands entirely equal?

This week’s issue of Brandweek (viewable at features an article titled P&G Throws Values Into Value Equation”.  Two things about the article were troubling to me.  First, I am concerned when I see anyone beginning a consumer research study from the premise that there could actually be a situation in which “price and quality are equal between two brands”.  While price is an absolute, it assumes that quality is also and that the majority of consumers would see no subjective differences between two brands.  That would mean no difference in image.  No difference in package design. No difference in the manufacturer’s readiness to stand behind their brand.  No difference in placement. And no differences in previous experience or word of mouth heard or read about the brand.  It just can’t be.


Secondly, I am disappointed to read that if all those things could somehow actually be equal, and study participants accepted that premise, that still only 75% would more likely buy the brand that was giving a portion of sales to a charitable cause than the alternative.  What would they have to lose?  If the manufacturer is willing to cut their profits for a good cause, and the products are entirely equal in every respect (so nothing whatsoever to lose), why not support a good cause?


I ask you:

1)      Are we a heartless people who wouldn’t support charity even at absolutely no costs to us?

2)      Is the research flawed and study participants recognize that the two products could not possibly be equal in every way?

3)      Is P&G trying to push too far after all the great work they have done over the years in making use of the Value Equation?

4:07 pm edt          Comments

Monday, March 2, 2009

Can Marketers Control Word of Mouth?

In a recent post on Marketing titled Leverage the Voice of the Customer,  Evan Gerber told us that  “WOM is the practice of engaging influential users in a given community, creating a positive brand experience for them, and letting them propagate an authentic and unique brand message to their friends. “  As an example he offers the case of Brown-Foreman seeking to reinforce the popularity of its Chambord Liqueur by reaching out to influencers such as bartenders through an aggressive, entertaining educational program. He explains that these influencers then went on to build awareness among their audiences.

I find this explanation totally incorrect and the type of information that is leading marketers astray in these turbulent times.  Word of Mouth isn’t something that was invented by marketers. Word of Mouth is part of human nature.  People communicate with one another about things that interest them, frighten them, please them and anger them.  They communicate with friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers and even strangers (especially online).  They talk around the water-cooler, via email, on the phone, and face-to-face.  Certainly skilled marketers (as in the Brown-Foreman example) can on occasion create a temporary blip in the conversation, but in reality it’s very difficult for a “campaign” to create a “memorable and lasting” influence on those consumers as Mr. Gerber states.  Our attention spans are just too short, and unless the marketer maintains their campaign, the idea that their Word of Mouth campaign will be lasting, is extremely unlikely.

All this isn’t to say that marketers can’t influence Word of Mouth, but rather to explain that the vast majority of Word of Mouth isn’t driven by any kind of campaign.   In fact it’s the result of the Total Customer Experience.  It’s driven by every interaction that customers have with a brand, and by the “data” they are capturing through their senses (what they see, hear, smell, touch and taste) along the way.  When that Experience is a good one we hope that our customers may tell others about it.  When it is painful, we must recognize that they are even more likely to make others aware of their Experience.
Marketers that want to take action to generate more positive Word of Mouth need to first understand what current customers are saying and writing about them today.  Once they have that information they can then leverage the most important positive messages, fix the key processes, policies, training and product issues that are causing the negative Word of Mouth, and use their communication skills to neutralize the misunderstandings and unfair comparisons. 
10:36 am est          Comments

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