AMAZON, usually a consumer-first A-player, is letting this entitled customer down

Note: This week I began writing a bi-weekly column for TheCustomer, a great resource that covers all of the disciplines within the customer engagement ecosystem, exploring the latest research, technologies and personalities driving the customer revolution. This article is a re-post from TheCustomer.

When we conducted our research – and particularly in our case studies and expert interviews – Amazon was frequently referenced as a best-in-class example of consumer-first marketing. I’ve always questioned just how good they really are — for example, I find their recommendations are just as likely to miss as they are to hit. But my experience during the Covid-imposed lockdown has been a real disappointment. Here’s my perspective:

I am an entitled consumer. I have high, maybe even unreasonable, expectations of brands. I want them to know me, value my attention and time, predict my needs, and deliver an experience that is both convenient and enjoyable.

And, I’m not alone. In research we conducted for Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, consumers were clear that they’ve had it with companies that treat them as “target customers” and serve them with generic marketing messages. We surveyed 7,000 people in six countries and found that that 74% “expect companies to treat me as an individual, not as a member of some segment like ‘millennials’ or ‘suburban mothers.’” And 70% told us that “when a company interacts with me, it’s important that they understand my current situation, and not just try to sell me their product.”

Here’s the thing, I don’t believe that being an “entitled” consumer is a pejorative concept. Quite the opposite – brands should want these types of relationships. In focus groups that we conducted with consumers across four countries, the brand that was mentioned more than any other as an example of a company that gets this right was Amazon. And, it makes sense — Amazon has long delivered a service that is reliable, quick, easy, convenient, and can even make you feel-good (if you use Amazon Smile).

But, my recent experiences with Amazon don’t live up to my entitled expectations. Apparently, I (or my family using my account) have placed 177 orders with Amazon in 2020. That averages to two orders every three days. Amazon has a fully automated email program that 1) acknowledges the purchase within seconds, 2) informs me when the items ship, and 3) informs me again when the item has been delivered. At first glance, this could be considered best practice.

The problem is that these transactional emails fail to tell me what’s in the order, unless I click on the email to get to Amazon’s site. It might sound petty to complain, but when you’re ordering something on average every 36 hours, it’s hard to keep track of the items that you’re waiting on. Of course, Amazon includes items that they recommend for you — and many are well targeted. The problem is that Amazon is failing to respect my time, provide me value, or demonstrate any customer empathy.

Other brands that I purchase from have made the confirmation emails fun, informative, and helpful. Amazon is suffering from what we call the “Transference of Entitlement” — when we encounter an experience we enjoy, we learn to count on it. Then we expect all other companies to step up and deliver the same experience. Then, as we begin to rely on it, we become disappointed when other providers don’t step up to offer it.

Amazon has traditionally raised the stakes in this customer experience arms race. Unfortunately, a global pandemic, resulting shutdown, and subsequent increase in engagement, has lowered my satisfaction buying from and interacting with this once-pioneering brand. Given its history, I don’t count Amazon out, but I do hope it gets back to putting me, the customer, at the center of everything they do.

This article originally appeared on, and is re-posted with permission from, TheCustomer

Put yourself in your customers flip-flops

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Every now and then, I’m fortunate enough to have a client engagement close to home. During one recent example, I was on my way to meet a client at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. My Lyft driver was a retired college professor who had taught business strategy at Drexel University for many years. He shared a wonderful anecdote about the first time he came to the Breakers in the 1970s with his wife. They were co-teaching a course, and the agenda was fairly light. In fact, they didn’t need to show up in the mornings until 10 a.m.

Unfortunately, for them, The Breakers was building an upscale condominium complex on the property, now known as Breakers Row. Every morning, the jackhammers and cement mixers would start up at 8 a.m. jolting them out of their illusions of paradise.

One night over drinks, one of the course members commented to my driver on the hotel’s beauty. The driver agreed and said that everything had been wonderful, but that he regretted how early the construction noise started every morning. When they got back to their room that night, they found a bowl of chocolate covered strawberries and a note apologizing for the inconvenience caused by the construction, and letting them know that for the remainder of their stay, construction would not start until 9 a.m.

A waitress or bar tender had overheard their conversation, noted their room number, informed their manager, and someone took the time to call the construction company, figure out a solution, and put themselves in their customer’s flip-flops.

As we’ve mentioned before, we get pushback from marketers when we use examples of USAA, Amazon, and Disney. Some marketers believe that it’s easier for them because of the resources at their disposal. But we always point out that customer-first behavior starts with a mindset. Without that, any investment in technology or process is going to be wasted. The Breakers didn’t use fancy listening platforms or big data solutions – just respectful empathy and a desire to deliver a world class experience to every customer.

What do ‘bespoke burgers’ have to do with entitled consumers?

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Back in my Forrester days, one of my favorite things was to be invited to a “WIM session”. Forrester analysts write research that captures the essence of what’s changing in the market, why that’s important now, and what the takeaways should be for the reader. But, then in big important research, we would bring together a bunch of analysts – often from different research teams – and conduct a “WIM Session.” WIM stands for “What it means.” We’d start from the future perspective envisioned in the report and ask questions about what will future would look like, how companies will have to change as a result, how the economy might change, or how consumer behaviors might change. We would pursue these questions down a “if that, then what?” chain until we got to the borderline-absurd.

Nick, Josh, and I conducted a similar “Dream Session” as we were wrapping up Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. We asked ourselves and our collaborators what would happen in a world of entitled consumers and consumer-first marketers. One of our predictions that we published in the book was that “Consumer-first marketing will give rise to a bespoke products economy.” We referenced INDOCHINO, which sells custom men’s suits, chinos, and shirts, and delivers products to consumers that exactly match their preferences, but didn’t exist until the consumer asked for them. Amazon can print books on demand. Tesla takes your order and builds a car to your spec. Nike and Adidas are selling more and more shoes that are one-off designs by individual customers.

And, then, this week McDonald’s announced that it will acquire Dynamic Yield, an “AI powered personalization platform,” and will use its decision technology to “increase personalization and improve customer experience” allowing the fast food restaurant to adjust digital menus at drive-thrus depending on the time of day, weather, traffic, or trending menus.

If you’d asked me for a list of potential acquirers for Dynamic Yield, I’d be lying if I said that I’d have put McDonald’s on that list. But, I applaud their foresight and hope, for their sake, that they can deliver on their aim to accelerate their digital transformation and “advance” and “elevate” “McDonald’s customer experience with technology and innovation.”

If even a burger joint sees the need or opportunity to invest $300 million in technology that enables it to become more customer-centric, is there a company out there that shouldn’t be thinking along these lines?

Sephora’s customer focus is simply brilliant (and, at times, brilliantly simple)

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I get pushback when I point to Disney, USAA, or T-Mobile as examples of companies that excel at consumer-first marketing or customer-centricity. People argue that these companies have some sort of unfair advantage or extenuating circumstance that somehow makes focusing on the customer easier for them. But, even if you’re not trying to be the next Disney or USAA, every company can improve – and that starts with a mindshift, and doesn’t have to involve spending lots of money upfront.

To make the point, I usually turn to Tom Boyles, former SVP of global customer managed relationships at Disney Parks & Resorts. Tom spent most of his career in banking, and would point out that his opportunity to connect with customers at Disney was no greater than at any other stage in his career. He once told me that people would look at him and say, “it’s easy for you to connect emotionally with customers. You’ve got everything from Mickey Mouse to Johnny Depp at your disposal.” But, Tom would turn that around and ask them, “what’s more emotional than the roof over the head of your family, your ability to send your children to college, or your ability to afford your retirement?” Mortgages, 529 accounts, and 401Ks could be boring products to promote, but if you put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand their emotional connection, it makes it a heck of a lot easier.

I’m not naive. I know that Disney spent more than $1 billion upgrading the customer experience at its parks. But, one of the reasons I point to Disney as a great example of a consumer-first business is because of the small things that it does. Look back at Tom’s title. He wasn’t running the CRM team. It was CMR – Customer managed relationships. Why? Because they believe that the customer owns the relationship and not the company. In Marketing to The Entitled Consumer, we reference the story of a security guard at a Disney park asking little girls that were dressed as princesses for their autographs.

I love finding small examples that demonstrate a firm’s commitment to being customer-first. Last week, on LinkedIn, I posted a picture of two stacks of shopping baskets in a Sephora store. The baskets are in two colors – one indicates that the shopper would like to be assisted and the other that they would like to be left alone. The response to my LinkedIn post has been tremendous. Thousands of people have viewed the post and hundreds have liked or commented. As I said in that post, customer-centricity and customer experience start with a mind shift – by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.

Sephora is another one of those companies that I point to as an example of a consumer-first business. They’ve shown over the years a commitment to understanding and providing value to their customers. But, what I loved about this example was its simplicity. You don’t have to invest a billion dollars as Disney did to overhaul your entire process and system. Instead, you can change your outlook – truly consider what is valuable to your customers and make small, incremental changes that can have major impacts on your customer’s experience.

Why do entitled consumers rebel?

In our conversations with marketers and strategists, they often complain about consumers’ rising expectation levels. For many of them, calling consumers entitled is a pejorative term. We disagree. We think marketers need to change how they think AND how they behave to accomodate and engage with entitled consumers. Marketer behavior is so bad that we dedicate an entire chapter in Marketing to the Entitled Consumer to marketing overload.

There are lots of reasons – but for consumers, there are no excuses. Among the consumers we surveyed, 43% agree with the statement that, “Companies are lucky to get my attention and they should act like it.” And, for Fully Enittled consumers, that proportion rises to 59%.

Meanwhile, we bombard consumers with retargeted ads and assault their inboxes and mobile devices until they stop paying attention, and even seek out ways to block us from communicating with them. Marketing is not necessarily the enemy of a good customer experience, but unless it is carefully managed, it can be. When marketers are too focused on the bottom line and short-term results, they can go off course.

At their core, most marketers want to do the right thing. They want to make customers aware of products or services that will make them happier. The challenge has been to deliver on that promise in an efficient, and respectful way. That’s what Marketing to the Entitled Consumer is all about – how to stop bombarding your customers and to turn their unreasonable expectations into lasting relationships.

Who and where are entitled consumers?

Marketing to the Entitled Consumer goes on sale today. We’ll spend the next few days highlighting some of the major findings, conclusions, and recommendations in the book. Starting with a question posed by the book title. What exactly is an entitled consumer?

For a long time, our working description was consumers that consider themselves deserving of privelege and special treatment. And, we’ve always believed that entitled consumers are far from a threat to marketers. We don’t see the term as pejorative. We believe entitled consumers represent an opportunity. But, only if marketers adjust how they attempt to build relationships with them.

We wanted to gain a more complete understanding of today’s consumer, and to get beyond entitlement as an abstract idea. So, we surveyed 7,000 consumers in six countries (2,000 in the USA, and 1,000 each in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK) to better define and measure the concept. And we worked with outside experts (thank you KGR+C) to derive an Entitlement Factor from the data.

We were surprised by some of the findings. Most notably, entitlement is pretty much independent of traditional demographic categories. We expected to see a more hightened sense of entitlement among millennials, for example. But, we found limited differences according to generation, gender, socio-economic status, or education background.Entitlement segments 2x2

We found that entitlement is a synthesis of two related qualities, which we call hard and soft entitlement. Hard entitlement manifests in people making demands. Their basic attitude is “if you don’t give me what I demand, I’ll punish you.” Soft entitlement is related, but different. It’s reflected in people who are willing to share data to get better service, and expect companies to understand their needs. Their attitude is “I’ll help you give me what I want, because that’s what I’ve come to expect. When consumers demonstrate both hard and soft entitlement, we call them Fully Entitled.

Although the exact number of consumers in each category differs by country, our data indicates that more than two thirds of consumers are entitled – and we expect the trend to continue. And, since you can’t use traditional segmentation methods to identify them, we recommend that you treat everyone as entitled. Demanders will punish you if you don’t, Anticipators will leave in disappointment, and the Fully Entitled may do both. But, if treat them as though they are deserving of privelege and special treatment, you’ll be able to build profitable relationships with them. That’s what our book is all about!

 

On Sale Today!

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We will continue to share the major themes from the book over the next several days, but we hope you’ll want to learn more. We encourage you to purchase the book, and would love it if you’d leave us a review. Among other sources, you can find it here:

What causes hostility towards brands?

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When my former colleage Augie Ray posted recently that he has “given up on Amazon until they become a better employer and corporate citizen” it set me thinking. I realized something about how I patronize different brands. When I favor a brand, it’s often due to aligned values — I’m willing to spend more at Patagonia, for example, than at many of their competitors. Yes, they produce a quality product, but I also respect, and am willing to compensate them, for their principles.

I once commented that some companies seem to engage in “concerted acts of hostility” rather than “random acts of kindness.” And, unlike Augie’s principled stand against Amazon, I realized that when I have blacklisted brands, it’s almost always due to negative customer experience – or concerted act of hostility. There are companies that I refuse to patronize. For example:

  • I once rented a car from Hertz to drive to Miami airport. When I missed my flight, I ended up driving back home. I went back to Hertz, was given the same car, which hadn’t even been cleaned yet, and they charged me for two one-way rentals (which was significantly higher than returning it to the same rental center, even though I ultimately did).
  • Avis isn’t any better. They recently charged me for an extra day when returning a car that was 20 minutes late. They failed to take into consideration the fact that I received it late — waiting in line for more than an hour to pick it up — two days previously.
  • Uber has pissed me off in so many ways, but the final straw was when I ordered from UberEats when my son was in hospital. The driver drove in the opposite direction for 20 minutes to deliver a different order, and took more than an hour to actually get our food to us. When I spoke to customer service, initially they hung up on me. When I dialled back, they denied that he dropped off another order, finally admitted that he did, and then told me that our food was delivered within their permitted window. The food was cold and congealed. The customer service was just cold.
  • I live two doors away from a hotel in Palm Beach – The Tideline. It has a beautiful outdoor patio which we should love to frequent. We used to go their occasionally for breakfast or lunch, but the service is so bad that it was hard to keep going back. The final straw was when my son and I were sitting at the Sushi bar eating dinner, and were informed that we wouldn’t be able to order for 45 minutes because they had just received a large order. This had happened to my wife and I previously (although not in the middle of our meal). Beause it had happened before, and we had previously been told the cause, I asked them if it was because the owner had put in the order. And, they confirmed it. So, the billionaire owner of the hotel would rather interrupt a patron’s dinner so that he can be served. I’m not spending any more of my money at his establishment.
  • I once drove more than an hour for an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic. After waiting another hour to be seen, I was told that the doctor I was waiting to see was not an ENT specialist – which is why I had set up the appointment to see him. The RN was pleasant about it, but we canceled the appointment. I pointed out to the receptionist what had happened, and she didn’t seem to care. Nobody ever followed up with me either to apologize or to schedule with an actual ENT specialist.

To complicate matters, I do know that my expectations are higher for the Cleveland Clinic than for other hospitals. This is mainly due to having heard from their executives while I was at Forrester, about how much emphasis they place on customer experience. When they failed to meet basic courtesy, yet claim to value CX, I gave up on them.

I had a similarly nuanced experience with JetBlue. I used to hold them to a higher standard due to the experiences that I had enjoyed. When they let me down, badly, on a subsequent occassion, I stopped flying them for a while. Then, when I began to fly with them again, I changed how I thought about them. I now think of them as just another uncaring airline. They’re no worse than the others, but I no longer think of them as better. And, then there’s brands like Comcast, that I’d love to avoid, but I live in a condo which has a monopolistic relationship with the company. I live with them, but loath them.

I don’t have the answers on this one, but I’m intrigued to explore further. Do shared values lead to higher loyalty, while negative experiences lead to hostility? Certainly for me, that’s the case, but what’s your experience?

 

Marketing to the Entitled Consumer – so real, you can touch it (well, I can at least)

Marketing to the Entitled Consumer - the bookI just received my first copies of Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, which will be on the bookshelves on October 30.

After countless hours of deliberation, debate, writing, and editing – and then waiting – it’s finally real.

And, we only have 35 days to wait to see it on shelves and hear the reaction. Our goal has always been to spark a conversation — about consumers, what they want, and how brands can and should give it to them. We hope you’ll chime in on this site as part of that conversation.

We’ve launched a separate site which is dedicated to the book if you’d like to check that out. It gives a detailed view of what to expect in each chapter. We also hope that you’ll buy and give feedback on the book. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon, and wherever else you might buy books.

We have launch events and signings in London on October 4 and New York on October 17. Let Nick, Josh, or me know if you’d like to attend.

Humbly,

Dave

Use unsafe thinking to align with entitled consumers

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This is not a political post. For as long as it takes you to read this post, I’d ask you to put aside whether you think Nike was right or wrong to feature Colin Kaepernick in it’s “Just do it” ad, and acknowledge that it was a high-risk move.

Author, Jonah Sachs calls this type of move “unsafe thinking.” Sachs cites other examples like CVS deciding to stop the sales of cigarettes. When CVS began to consider the decision, the unsafe question that they asked was whether they could make more money by not selling tobacco – compared to the $2 billion in tobacco sales they were making at the time.  I’m not so sure that CVS was employing unsafe thinking though, as much as bowing to the pressures of a health care market, and a recognition of the hypocracy of selling billions of dollars worth of cigarettes while claiming a mission to deliver health to their community.

Nike, on the other hand, had to know that it would alienate a segment of its customer base. I wonder if they were surprised when people began to cut their swoosh of their socks, burn their shoes, and vow to never purchase from the brand again.

We have long advocated for aligning your company’s values with those of your consumers. But, what the Nike example shows is that your customers aren’t all aligned. So, you have to go a little deeper. Figure out which values are most important to the customers you want to keep. In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer we consider examples such as TOMS, Thrive Market, and Figs that pursue a buy-one-give-one model or how Danish pharma company, Nordisk supplies insulin at reduced prices in developing countries. These are values that are important to the company, but they are not particularly controversial.

Increasingly, however, we see the rise of activist commerce. Sleeping Giant, an anonymous watchdog organization, alerts brands when their advertising appears on extremist websites – with an inherent threat to boycott them if they don’t react. Consumers that want to take control can download buycott, whose barcode scanning app lets them vote with their wallet on all sorts of issues that might be individually important to them.

When it comes to aligning with consumers, companies that identify the causes their customers believe in and find creative ways to support those causes will create a way to differentiate themselves in the consumer’s mind. How controversial you want to be, is up to you. But, start by employing some unsafe thinking. And then, just do it.

Good customer support can instill loyalty

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Although I own a lot of Apple products, I don’t consider myself a fan-boy. If anything, I’m constantly on the edge of giving up. Every time my Apple products don’t work the way they’re supposed to (isn’t ease-of-use a big part of the promise?) I start thinking about giving the Pixel phone a go or trying to work with a Surface or chromebook.

Usually, inertia takes over. I realize the effort it would take to manage and migrate my photos and music, and there’s the need to re-learn which way to scroll and which corner to click to minimize a window. None of it is insurmountable, but the magnetism of the new just isn’t strong enough to overcome the habits of the present (with a hat tip to Jobs to be Done research for this description).

But then I had a great customer support experience that guarantees my loyalty for the foreseeable future and raises the bar for the support team of every other company that I ever interact with. Without boring you with the technical challenge, I contacted Apple’s customer support team and, after some time, my case was escalated to a manager. As well as regular troubleshooting, at a couple of stages I had to send logs for him to forward to engineers.

When we first spoke, he told me that he would remain on my case until it was resolved. It took several days, but he was true to his word. What shocked me was his communication and tenacity. He told me exactly which days he was working and when he would follow up. He arranged specific times to call me and then called me at those times. He explained as much technical detail as I wished to know – and didn’t overwhelm or bore me with the rest. In short, he owned my case. He wouldn’t let go until it was resolved and I was satisfied.

My expecations of every company’s support are now so much higher, and my appreciation for Apple has pushed thoughts of Google, Microsoft, or Samsung to the very back of my mind.