Archives for March 2011

What Are You Missing?

Occasionally, I deviate from the topic at hand on this blog.  And, this is one of those times.  So, hopefully you’ll take a few seconds and hang while I ponder this….

I’ve been conspicuously absent from twitterville over the past several weeks.  Or, at least I thought I was.  Then I got to thinking.  Hey, the conversation is diminishing.  The @ mentions and DMs are coming fewer and farther between.  Then I went through what I’m guessing is a type of withdrawal.

First came fear.  Fear that the connections are fragile.  That the conversations are fleeding at best.  That out of sight really is out of mind.

Then, I starting thinking about the connections I’ve made that have flowed from twitter outside, all the way to face to face connections with amazing folks from whom I’ve learned so much.  Made real connections.  Created real value.

Then, came the realization that this twitter thing is actually a lot of work.  It requires an incredible investment in energy, effort, time and personal commitment in order to realize value in return.  What did I really want from this relationship? 

Was it that the time I was spending was just filling a void?  Or was it distracting me from some other purpose?  Was there other work that could create greater value?  What did I want out of my investment?  After all, it is my investment.  I don’t let others manage my dough (what little there is).  I’m in control.  So, why should I treat twitter any differently?

As of late, the work, I mean the real work, the stuff that gets me jazzed up every morning, has been so incredibly challenging, captivating and rewarding, I’ve come to a place where maybe many of you already have past on your journey.  Will I still be on twitter?  Of course.  But in the endorphin game, I’ve found a new high.

If you stopped tweeting for two weeks, what would fill that void?  Would you be missed?  What do you think you’d be missing?

Customer Service At Any Cost?

I’ve written on this topic a few times.  And those posts have elicited their share of visceral reactions from my colleagues in customer service circles.  But as much as I’m an advocate of the customer experience, I’m also a pragmatist and someone who believes that business decisions that don’t make financial sense don’t typically forecast a long and prosperous lifespan for any company.  Call me crazy.

So, two stories this week made me revisit this topic.  Not to prove my point, but to hopefully continue the conversation.

Firstly, when I heard Borders Books declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy a few weeks back, it didn’t register as that surprising to me.  In my mind, it was just another victim of a literary industry that had failed to reinvent itself in the face of radical upheaval.  But then I caught a couple of tweets this past week pondering why this venerable customer service all star could have fallen so hard.  In reality, I have no idea why.  Actually, I had no idea Borders even had such a customer service reputation.  I haven’t stepped into a book store for several years.  But I can suppose.  And, to the title of this post, I’m supposing that whatever the service experience that was being delivered was quite possibly out of alignment with the current economics of this particular industry.  Just guessing here if this was the case with Borders.  But, you can have the greatest return policy and allow your customers to lounge in your brick and mortar store until closing time.  But, if fewer and fewer of those customers are walking through the door, and even less are ringing the register, no level of white glove service is going to matter.

In a more personal experience, I was witness to a scene on Friday night that made me ponder a presumption I’ve challenged in the past; the presumption that the customer is always right.  I’m not expecting a warm a fuzzy reception to these comments.  But, I was at my local Applebee’s Restaurant with my family.  And for those with whom I’m friends on Facebook know, I’m there more often than in my own kitchen.  During dinner, I was eyewitness to a group completely take advantage of the restaurant and their server; complaining to the manager about the server to receive a discount on their tab, then afterwards laughing about it, with one saying to the others “I do this all the time.  I told you it would work.  You just need to know what places to go to.”

Is the above perhaps an extreme example?  I don’t think so.  In my business, my clients are constantly challenged with consumers attempting to extract coupons or free product by filing false complaints.  These consumers, much like the group in Applebees I assume, know that many companies believe its generally better for business to send a coupon or write off a twenty dollar tab than, especially in a world with twitter at the ready, it is to suffer the wrath of a brand attack that could go viral.

So, is the customer always right?  If you provide an exceptional customer experience, does that justify the financial house of cards required to support that white glove touch?  Should every customer be treated like a V.I.P.?  On that last one, I’ll share the most elegant definition of CRM I’ve heard yet.  “CRM means treating different customers differently”.

As a customer, what is your responsibility?

What Did You Expect?

What do you expect from me, Mr. Customer?

Walmart: To give me the best value for my household dollar
Nordstrom: To make the process of buying clothes fit into my busy schedule
Zappos: To never say “no”
FedEx: To make sure that my customers get what I ship them when I say
Apple: To integrate my digital life into a single, seamless platform accessible through elegantly simple devices

Ok, so what’s the point?  My friend Tim Sanchez wrote a post the other day about expectations setting that got me thinking.  At the intersection of customers and brands, who’s expectations are they anyway?  And why do some brands so wildly under deliver on the most modest of expectations?  While, as Tim demonstrated through a video from Apple, some set meteoric expectations yet never seem to miss the mark.

Has Apple had some hiccups?  Absolutely.  Remember Antenna-Gate?  But, ask people now and its a faded memory somewhere deep in the cerebellum.

The point is this.  I don’t think its Apple that sets the expectations at all.  I think their customers (me, being in the raving fan category) are the ones that do.  Remember reading “The Discipline of Market Leaders” back in B-School?  The argument was that companies that excel focus on either product superiority, customer intimacy or operational excellence, and that great companies have a dominate persona; their value propositions being driven primarily through one of these.

We think of Apple as being world class in product superiority.  I’d argue that they, in fact, are so intimately knowledgeable about their customers that they design products that their customers don’t even know they need yet.  And, they understand their customers so well that what may seem like outlandish claims in this video is mere feedback to their customers of exactly what they hear their customers tell them when the ask the question:

What do you expect?