Archives for July 2010

Are You a Hoarder?

Of data, that is.  Data is everywhere.  We’re swimming in it; in some cases drowning.  And, we’ve become really good as organizations at collecting it, to the point of hoarding.  But, how much smarter has this data made us about our customers?  How much closer have we become to, not only understanding our customers wants, needs and desires, but anticipating them?

Customer surveys, focus groups, point of sale, demographics, technographics, psychographics, CRM, SCRM, web analytics, “likes”, social network analysis…the sources and types of data about customers, prospects and people in general is virtually unlimited.  And the stream of technologies claiming to lay the golden egg is ever-growing.

The direct and opportunity costs of collecting and storing data have plummeted recently and continue to drive lower, towards zero in some cases.  Heck, 10 years ago, a terabyte of data was futuristic cocktail conversation at IT conferences.  Now you can get a terabyte of storage on a flash drive for a couple hundred bucks.  And Toshiba is working on a 1Tb SSD the size of a postage stamp.

The last frontier, unstructured data, of which Gartner estimates makes up greater than 80% of enterprise data, is now no longer unaccessible either.  So, throw all that in the mix and our data store ends up looking like this

The unfortunate impact is that we have now become hooked on the ‘data pipe’; addicted to collecting it.  We’re doing it as individuals too.  We collect (sometimes hoard) followers, friends and contacts across social networks; confusing popularity and reach with influence and relationship to stroke our egos. Instead of focusing on better understanding, we have been lulled into a false sense of security and accomplishment through the very activity of data collection.  The acquisition and mining of the data has become the objective, the compulsion.  And, so we convince ourselves that we have a more intimate relationship with our customers.  But, the data on customer satisfaction and loyalty shows that the emperor has not clothes.

I’m often left to wonder, then,  how the best in class companies seem to anticipate and satisfy customer expectations so well.  Is it a result of the analysis of all this data?  Or, is it the fact that they simply hoard less and listen more?

I Can’t Be Satisfied

I’ve been engaged in some really fascinating dialog this week with several colleagues whom I hold in high regard on the subject of the customer experience.

My mind first started stirring after reading Eric Jacques’ latest blog post “Definition of Customer Satisfaction”, where Eric proposed an interpretive application of the expression derived from the words Customer and Satisfaction. 

Now, I’ve never been a huge Rolling Stones fan.  But music being my life-long passion (see, you read this little diddy long enough, you’ll find out all sorts of tidbits), I respect their accomplishments and have followed the band enough to know they sang more than once about satisfaction.  And, the distinction Mick and the boys made between not getting any satisfaction and never being satisfied now seems oddly applicable to Eric’s post and the ensuing logic string it kicked off in my head.

Upon reading Eric’s post, my first thought was “ok, so now what?”.  A similar banter has been occurring for probably too long in social CRM circles around its definition as well.  The most important aspect of defining customer satisfaction is how it manifests in our dealings as customers with providers of goods and services.  How does your perception of whether your expectations of satisfaction were simply met or exceeded translate into action?  If you are merely satisfied, do you continue to give that company your business?  Do you walk?  Do you recommend?  Those are also the questions companies need you to answer too.  Here’s where I went off the rails; when Eric concluded his post with the question, as a company, “should customer satisfaction be your objective?”.  Here’s why.

From a philosophical, intellectual point of view, sure, it’s ok to claim that a company that simply meets your expectations, that satisfies you, is not good enough.  But, after reading Matt Jury’s comment:

“There’s nothing satisfying about someone just meeting you’re expectations.  Unless you’re always used to settling for less.” 

I’m left to wonder if maybe we customers have some culpability in creating the chasm with brands.

Actually, this discussion relates to two other recent posts from Tim Sanchez and Chris Reaburn, who linked the notion of predefined expectations with the perception of the service experience from Apple and Zappos.

The crux of the conundrum?

What purpose is served in any relationship of not being transparent and clearly articulating your expectations?  However high they may be.  In practice, I think this is actually destructive behavior.  Think about how this approach would impact your other relationships?  What if the folks that worked for you never knew what was expected?   What if your kids felt that whatever they did was never good enough?  Pretty corrosive, right? 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all about lagniappe.  And, I’m a huge fan of @9inchmarketing and The Purple Goldfish Project.  But, when the unexpected becomes the expectation, to the point where good is never good enough, I think we start down a slippery slope of destruction.  Destruction of trust.  Destruction of value. 

If expectations are always a moving target and ever-increasing, if we force companies to play this continuous game of cat and mouse, how do companies and customers ever get to a higher place where co-creation of real value is possible?  Transparency is not one of those one-way police interrogation mirrors.  Customers have a responsibility too.

Twitter Follow Friday #8

Eight is enough?  Not when you’ve got so many wonderful people with whom you’ve connected.  I want to keep sharing mine with you.  Hopefully, you’re inspired to follow them too:

@rshevlin – Ron tattooed me right between the eyes a few weeks back with this fantastic blog post about the cost of customer acquisition vs retention.  Then, I started to delve into his writings a bit more.  Provocative, honest, “somewhat snarky” and in your face.  Agree or disagree with this former Forrester analyst, who is now a principal at Aite Group, he will make you think differently about marketing; about lots of things.

@RLMadMan – Marjorie and I met for the first time last week on our weekly #custserv chat.  The topic was “Is Customer Service the New Marketing”.  And what I found out was that Marjorie is one of the most ‘enlightened’ marketers I’ve ever met.  Well, that’s an opinion from my myopic view of the world.  But, in all seriousness, it became clear that she gets the changing dynamics between marketing and customer service and the huge opportunities in a world without walls.  She is a big brain in marketing. 

Customers Rock! So do Ron and Marjorie!

Hey Ole’ Buddy! Wazzup?

I’m constantly astounded at the disparity of the human condition on this planet.  When I log onto Twitter or get my daily RSS feed from a favorite blog and read about a newly discovered tribe of indigenous people living in the Amazon who have yet to discover fire, all while checking MLB.com for last night’s scores and geo-locating the closest Starbucks on my iPhone, I am reminded that we’re all not at the same place in our evolution.

[wow! That was quite the lofty set up for what comes next!]

Apparently, neither are sales organizations.  On the one hand, we have companies that have embraced social networking, the concept of value creation, of giving something of yourself, exposing yourself prior to asking for a transaction and of full transparency.

On the other hand, there still exist sales people that think an email like this is somehow going to get their trinkets in front of me and I’m going to write a check for 100 of them: 

Barry,

Since last month for our lunch date didn’t work out, I wanted to see if we could get together next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Let me know

Thanks
[name withheld]

Huh?  Did I miss something here?  Ok, I’m getting older.  Maybe I forgot I had a buddy that sold networking and web design services.  Maybe we spoke last month about getting together for lunch and I completely spaced it.  No! I’m not even checking my past emails.  I know I’m not crazy.  I have no idea who this clown is.  But, apparently that’s what he’s hoping for.  He’s hoping I’m a complete idiot who will humbly apologize and, for being so inconsiderate, reciprocate with an immediate offer to meet next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Or, on the phone call I got this morning:

ring, ring

Me: Hello?

Sales Guy: Hey Barry.  What’s up?

[silence]

Me: Who is this?

Sales Guy: It’s Bill.  It’s been a while. You have a second to talk about that VoIP project?

Me: Actually Bill, its been forever.  Cuz you and I have never spoken.  Cheers.

[click]

This is why I don’t answer the phone unless I see your smiling Facebook avatar on my screen below the number.  This morning, yes I admit it.  I was caught off guard.  Probably right after reading that email.

Who’s the sales trainer that’s teaching this garbage?  And I wondering if he used the same techniques to sell his program to the organizations for whom these two gents above work. P.T. Barnum is laughing in his grave.

So, while so many of you are doing great work in mapping marketing’s new role and engineering the optimal customer engagement models that will lead to long-term value co-creation, there are still many tribal sales people rubbing sticks together hoping for a spark.

Makes me ponder how they knew to use email or dial the phone.

What is Customer Service?

I’ve never taken one of those Rorschach tests.  You know the psychological test in which you’re shown a series of inkblots and are supposed to say the first thing that comes to mind?  These are supposed to evaluate your personality characteristics and emotional functioning (note to self: call psychologist and schedule one of those).

So, what’s the first thing that popped into your head when you saw the title of this post?  A cubical farm filled with folks wearing headsets?  The “call center”?  A feeling of panic at the thought of dialing an 800 number and being tossed into IVR jail with no escape except to hang up in frustration?

I’m guessing your immediate thoughts went to something along those lines.  And that’s tragic.  Its a tragedy that so many organizations continue to be satisfied with letting this be how their customers view customer service.

We had a lively chat in our weekly #custserv gathering last night on Twitter.  The topic was “Is Customer Service the New Marketing?”  While I don’t agree with that statement; and the reasons why are for another post.  It became clear in that conversation, that the above visuals are where the vast majority of peoples’ heads go when they think of customer service.

Customer service is not a department.  Its not a function.  Its not that one floor, non descript brick building rising up in the middle of an Idaho potato field.

I’m in customer service.  I’m a technologist that works in a contact center.  My number one objective is to serve my customers, both internal and external.  Notice I didn’t say “service my customers”.  My customers aren’t cars coming into the dealer for a 30,000 mile check up.  They are valuable partners in my business, that I do well to serve.  In return, they provide value back.

In delivering our work, whether you’re a marketer, a financial analyst, a package designer or night security guard, if we all thought more like Craig Newman, who’s business card reads “Founder, CEO & Customer Service Representative – Craigslist”, I think we’d all be better served.