Archives for February 2012

Do You Need 1 Billion Customers?

Is there any company in history that has continued to focus on growth through adding more and more customers and hasn’t ultimately crashed and burned?

Ok, so sure there are.  But, on the surface, the track record isn’t pretty in a lot of cases.  We’ve seen countless examples of companies that have grown themselves into huge debt and bankruptcy.  Is bigger always better?  Does bigger always mean more profitable?  More customer centric?  Not if bigger means indiscriminantly accepting any and all customers that come your way.

The problem is that there is an ever-present conflict between satisfying multiple stakeholders – those that want revenue growth versus those that want profitability, and, further still, those that look to create customer value.  So, what drives this need to continue to get big?

This thought whacked me in the side of the head this morning while I was listening to this story on NPR.  Niche manufacturing is having a revival in the United States as companies focus on producing products for ever-narrowing customer segments.  Consumer preferences are changing.  And the population of consumers that want specialty products targeted to their unique interests, and are willing to pay a premium, continues to grow.

In the digital world, access to niche consumers is made easier on a broad, even global scale.  But clearly as exemplified by some of the companies highlighted in this story, this opportunity is now viable for physical businesses as well.  The other opportunity?   Create unique, rich targeted customer experiences that resonate with your small market and build exeptional affinity and loyalty.

So, if running a highly profitable business with raving, loyal customers is your goal, maybe there’s a better way than big.

Left Hand? Meet The Right Hand.

Do you know what he’s doing over there?

This is a fable of CRM lost in space.  Well, if it was a fable, it wouldn’t be worth writing about.  It actually happened.

I get on average a couple dozen calls a week from sales folks looking for a meeting.  They come at me from all channels – email, twitter, LinkedIn and even the phone.  The lastes voice mail I got the other day raised an eyebrow.

I started listening to the message from what seemed like a nice enough gent looking to introduce his company and services and requesting a meeting.  Pretty standard fair.  But in his introduction, he said the name of his company.  I did a double take.  I rewound the message twice to make sure I was hearing things correctly.  Years behind the drum kit has left my hearing less than optimal.  But no, I was right.

The sales guy was calling from a company with which my firm has been doing business for years.  Not that we’re a giant company.  But, our relationship with this particular company is not insignificant.  The same well-meaning eager sales guy also called a couple of my colleagues with the same pitch; one of whom forwarded the voice mail to our account manager.

CRM is having a renaissance.  Social capabilities are spawning new tools, new companies, new growth in the industry.  I had the oppotunity to comment a couple of weeks ago on a post called CRM’s Next 5 in 5 where some key CRM thought leaders weighed in on CRM’s future trends.  And, that is all great stuff.  Ever forward.  Don’t stand still.  Innovate.  Absolutely!  We all want to do, be a part of, implement all the new cool stuff.

Do the basics first.  Please.

Post Script – as a result of our account manager getting wind of the voice mail, I did receive a call from an executive explaining the error and apologizing for the confusion.  Well done.  Now lets hope they take this experience as a lesson learned.

Where’s Your Waiter’s Script

Ok, So we’ve all heard the jokes.  Especially those of us that live or spend any amount of time in New York or L.A.  It seems like everyone that serves you at a restaurant in these cities is just doing this gig to pass the time until the call comes in from Cameron or Spielberg.

But, isn’t it ironic that the best restaurant servers do things their way?  They don’t follow a script.  They don’t take direction about their every move.  They bring their own personal style into the engagement with their customers.

This struck me last weekend when I was out to dinner with my family.  And for those of you that know me personally, no, it was not at my local Applebee’s.

It was, on the surface, undetectable.  But, the more I thought about it, the more it began to sink in.  Sure, my waiter did all the basics.  He was attentive, courteous and timely without being overly intrusive.  But, the style with which he delivered his service was what made the experience richer.

After a few days of pondering this, going back to work in a contact center on Monday morning, I wondered how that same dining experience would have gone if my waiter was given a script to follow verbatim.

I’ve heard all the reasons under the sun why scripts are necessary in the contact center.  The interaction is complex.  These reps are paid eight bucks an hour.  They can’t be trusted with free forming it; using their brains.  The regulators require that we say certain things. 

Nonsense.

Hire people with a passion to serve.  Give them the basics and set them free.  You’ll be amazed at what they’ll deliver.

Then again, maybe you prefer the automated talking box at the drive through.  If so, script away.

5 in 5 in CRM – Stone Cold Locks

I listen to a lot of sports radio.  And I always chuckle when I hear ads from Vegas bookmakers offering the “Stone Cold Lock of The Week” – the sports bet that is guaranteed to payout.  Well, even if you’ve never been to Vegas, its not hard to figure out that all those audacious casinos weren’t built from house losses.  So, the only thing sillier than believing that a bookie is going to give his money away to you is nodding when the used car salesman says “Trust me.  This baby is cherry”.

So, when I was asked by Lauren Carlson, contributing editor on a CRM software review site, to add some color commentary to her wonderful recent post CRM’s Next 5 in 5, I said sure.  But my disclaimer is that my crystal ball doesn’t guarantee any kind of locks – stone cold, hot stone, lava lamp or otherwise.  That being said, here goes.

After reading IBM’s latest The Next 5 in 5, which examines some futuristic technologies that could change our world over the next five years, Lauren reached out to some of the biggest prognosticators in the CRM world for their opinions on CRM’s next big things.  Paul Greenberg, Ray Wang, Brent Leary, Esteban KolskyDenis Pombriant and Brian Solis contributed some great ideas. 

So rather than be repetitive of these gents, I tried to think about some of the risks and perhaps a twist or two.

1. Context Services – A richer, more multi-dimensional profile of the customer, for sure.  But, what happens if brands abuse the data?  Customers may grow fatigued by the ever-morphing intrusion from direct marketers and start turning off all those location service and GPS-based apps.  And what if the ROI for the marketer doesn’t materialize?  I just heard on NPR yesterday that an unscientific sidewalk poll showed less than 1 in 10 people have ever clicked on a Facebook ad.  Will context services, and the data from which, improve this equation?

2. Real-Time Customer Intelligence – Yup, data is exploding at an exponential rate.  And the cost of “A”ccess to it is dropping like a stone.  Talk about a crack pipe for the data base marketer!  Esteban hit the issue square.  And, yes, enterprises don’t yet have the tools or infrastructure to address the second two “A”s of data – aggregation and analysis.  While cloud-based services certainly address the speed to deploy question, like other cloud services, the enterprise is trading CapEx for OpEx.  That is always a challenge for the CFO who’s crack pipe is capital depreciation.

3.  TV as a Customer Engagement Channel – Well, it is certainly engaging!  Have you ever watched Winter Wipeout?  I can’t take my eyes off the screen!  Are we talking about hardware here, the pipe or content?  Where I think content providers will find value in improving customer engagement through the big screen is in the ability to leverage numbers one and two above.

4.  Virtual Meetings – Two words: Virtual Agent.  With ever-advancing speech recognition and interactive voice response systems, companies will leverage these solutions to serve customers who aren’t quite ready to give up their telephone.  Oh, and as for meetings.  How about less of those?  Virtual or otherwise.

5.  Gamification as a Business Strategy – Gamification is here.  And the healthcare industry is where I think it will take off in the next five years.  You might dismiss this notion because of all the regulatory and privacy issues in healthcare.  But patient adherence and compliance to treatment regiments as well as wellness and prevention are a perfect application for gamification concepts.  Engagement is the goal.  And, lets face it.  There’s a reason why otherwise sane people can lose themselves for hours inside Grand Theft Auto.  The more a pharmaceutical maker or healthcare provider can get a patient to engage with an application that manages their condition or wellness, the more likely the patient is to follow tha treatment and stay healthy.  The ROI is direct and huge.

And before you leave, check out Michael Fauscette’s take on this topic.

Futuristic?  A bit.  But certainly more imminent than what those big brains at IBM put forth, I think.