24 hours of customer service fails

Note: This article first appeared on TheCustomer.net and is re-published here with permission.

Last week, I experienced four customer service fails in less than 24 hours. What was interesting was that none of them were human error – and every rep that I interacted with seemed friendly, (somewhat) empathetic, and professional. Instead, it was clear that each case involved a process and system breakdown – clearly none of which were installed with the customer in mind.

My day started with a call to Ikea. I had just taken a couch out of storage and put it together the night before. Unlike when you usually build Ikea furniture and have pieces left over, I was missing the feet. These are seven plastic cones that screw directly into the couch. I looked up the items on Ikea’s website but you can’t buy them online. So, I called the call center and spoke to a service rep. I told them that I had misplaced them and inquired whether it was possible to purchase new ones. Bizarrely, Ikea wouldn’t sell them to me because I didn’t have my original order number from when the couch was purchased. I asked if I could go to the store or whether there was another way to get them, but there was no way for the rep to override the system, and it left me out of luck.

Next up, I called Varo Bank. Varo is one of the fast growing “fintech” banks that are supposedly different from traditional banks – it’s digital-first, there are cool features that you don’t find at traditional banks, and everything is supposed to “just work.” Until it doesn’t. I had sent a check to someone via their app – a neat feature that negates the need for a checkbook. Although it would be even better if the check arrived in the 3-9 days that the bank promised. I called the bank to figure out when I could let the recipient know it would arrive – the money had already been removed from my account.

It started with trying to navigate an IVR that didn’t have any prompts that remotely met my needs. There was also no way to go back in the IVR menu, so I kept hanging up and starting again. Eventually, I picked the closest prompt I could find, and was told that my wait time would be more than 60 minutes. There was no opportunity for a call back. And, they were right – after an hour and twenty-three minutes somebody answered the phone. I explained my issue, and the rep told me that she wasn’t the right person – she worked for Varo Money and not Varo Bank, and she put me on hold to transfer me to someone. else. After another 15 minutes on hold, I had to hang up for a work call. I sent an email to see if I could get the question answered and was told that I would get a response in 4-5 days. So, the next day I tried again. After being told once again that my wait time would be more than an hour, I sat on hold for two hours and eight minutes. This time I got someone from Varo Bank who told me that the check should arrive in the next two days. After almost three hours of hold time, I received an answer in less than 2 minutes – although I’m still waiting to see if the check gets there as promised.

That afternoon – since obviously I hadn’t had enough punishment or enough of frustrating financial institution experiences – I ran out to do some errands. I had been sent a check for a speech that I had given, and even though it was issued in US dollars, the issuing bank was in Canada so I couldn’t use the phone app to deposit the check. So, I went to a CapitalOne branch where a very nice teller explained that it would take up to 14 days to clear, and gave me a photocopy of my check in case I needed to prove that it had been deposited, which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

And, then I went to Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up a BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) order that my wife had ordered earlier that day. I arrived about 20 minutes after the recommended pick-up time, but the item wasn’t ready so I went into the store to inquire. A really helpful young store associate earnestly set off to investigate. After about 15 minutes, he came back to say he was still working on it, but that they had a lot of orders. I wasn’t the only person standing there waiting for their BOPIS order. After another 10 minutes, he came back with the manager and two alternative products in his hands that I could pick from as they didn’t have the item my wife had ordered – and paid for – online. It took them another 10 minutes to figure out the refund and charge for the product that I was then going to purchase instead. To rub salt in the wound, the very next day I received a generic coupon in the mail for 20% off any purchase at BB&B —addressed to me or the household — despite the fact that my wife is a Beyond+ member who gets 20% off every purchase.

As I mentioned, all of the people that tried to help me were very professional and seemed to want to help. Unfortunately, they were hamstrung by their employers’ systems and policies.

Entitled customers don’t want to wait two weeks for an international check to clear when they can send money around the world in seconds – and are even less inclined when the check is issued in the local currency. They also won’t accept a company’s absurd policies – I went elsewhere to get feet for my couch and Ikea lost the potential for that (minor) sale and the possible loss of future sales, since I’ll be less inclined to shop there in the future. And, entitled consumers who measure every company’s experience against the best experiences that they receive elsewhere now consider failures of supply chain to be failures of experience. Companies are left with nowhere to hide – it’s too easy for us as consumers to see through the system, policy, and process failures, and to take our business elsewhere.

Being a US health insurance customer sucks. Does it have to be this bad?

I have a sick kid. Thankfully it’s not life-threatening, but for the past three-and-a-half years he has been battling an often debilitating neuropsychiatric auto-immune disorder that has severely impacted his education and social life. It has also taken six-figure chunks out of our bank account every year in out-of-pocket medical expenses that insurance companies don’t cover. I share this not for sympathy but for context.

Several months ago, my son’s neurologist recommended a new treatment regimen to add to his current protocol. It’s an antibody therapy that is most often used in combination with chemotherapy to treat cancer patients, but is also used to treat certain autoimmune diseases and the neurologist has had success incorporating it into treatment for my son’s condition. The doctor’s office applied to our health insurer for pre-authorization and we were denied.

We had expected to be denied on the first request and tried to submit an appeal. For the past three months, both the doctor’s office and my wife have called the insurance company multiple times a week, navigating their IVR, and, since no human ever answered the phone, leaving messages indicating that we wished to start an appeal. Finally, last week, we got a service rep on the phone. To make an incredibly frustrating story as short as I can, because we hadn’t previously been able to speak to someone, and, therefore, hadn’t submitted the appeal within two weeks of being denied, we have to start the process all over again. We know it will be denied on what will be a new first appeal, and we have no idea whether we’ll be able to get through to a human being to initiate an appeal within two weeks of that denial.

It’s just one anecdote, but it encapsulates so much of my experience as a health insurance customer. Ultimately, Health insurers suck at CX (customer experience). If I tried to be charitable, I’d say that’s somewhat understandable. Because insurance firms have traditionally sold to, and through, employers, they have never really had to care about member expectations, feelings, or market competition.

But, that’s changing. As consumers’ expectations rise (after all, we are all increasingly entitled) we push back when we don’t get the convenience and value that we get from brands in other sectors. I believe a reckoning is coming for insurance companies and healthcare providers that fail to focus on member experience.

Whether you call them consumers, patients, or members, customers are becoming aware of – or forced into – alternatives to employer-based programs even if they haven’t actually considered switching. Meanwhile regulatory changes have made the market more competitive and the landscape is rapidly changing as new technology-driven providers emerge and non-traditional behemoths (like Amazon, Walmart, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan) consider how they can play a role.

Consumers don’t care about why firms are not delivering on their expectations, they just have higher expectations for service and the reason for brand failure be damned.

Providers and insurers should be scrambling to get their heads around how to manage direct relationships and deliver experiences that at least come closer to meeting consumer expectations. Of course, like most other brands on the planet, they’ll have to deal with the fact that their customer-facing functions are designed to meet performance metrics that have little to do with one another and are often mutually exclusive.

I don’t believe that my insurance company is worse than any other. I don’t think that any of them have stopped to think about what the member actually expects from their relationship. And, I don’t claim to have all the answers.

Although not related to this experience, it’s a timely anecdote. Our team at Atlaas is kicking off research with consumers, insurers, healthcare providers, and experts to get a better understanding of what consumers expect from insurers and providers, the challenges these firms face in delivering excellent (or slightly positive) CX, and seek to recommend and predict how healthcare institutions will adapt in the future. Do you have a perspective? We’d love to hear from you!

Note: This article originally appeared on TheCustomer.net and is posted here with permission.

I know why the caged customer leaves (with apologies to Maya Angelou).

This article first appeared on TheCustomer and is re-published here with permission.

CLIQ Flipped The Script

Last week, I had a disappointing product experience turn into a positive customer experience. I recently purchased a pair of Cliq eyeglass readers – if you haven’t seen or heard of them, they disconnect and reconnect at the bridge using magnets, and can hang around your neck when not in use. As is typical of online purchases, I received an email a few days later asking for a review. The problem was, I didn’t like the product. I found the field of vision to be way too small, and the neck band was also quite short resulting in smudges that I thought this style of glasses would avoid. For the record, I have a friend who wears his pair all the time and loves the product, they just didn’t work for me.

I was honest in my online review, commenting in my first sentence that I really wanted to like these glasses but that they didn’t work for me. I didn’t think any more about it until several days later when I received an email in which the company said they were sorry I didn’t love them, and that I was welcome to return them for a different pair or a full refund. I was really taken aback that they went out of their way to match my online review with my purchase. In the email, they included a link to request the refund and the details that I would need including my order number. And, when I did submit a request, it was approved in less than ten minutes.

Entitled consumers expect companies to stand behind their products and services. When we researched the attitudes of US and European consumers for Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, 45% of the segment of consumers that we labeled as “demanders” indicated that “when a product or service doesn’t meet expectations, I return the product and ask for my money back”. In this case though, I hadn’t asked for my money back. I had simply posted my honest feedback on the product. The company clearly cared enough to marry my review to my profile, and wants its customers to be happy with their purchase or to refund them their money.

Contrast this with American Airlines. The airline currently refuses to return more than $1,000 that I spent booking flights that were subsequently cancelled last March due to the Covid pandemic. They are keeping my money in hostage. But, fear not, they will do me the great honor of allowing me to use that money to book another flight on their airline – as long as it’s booked by December. I presume after that, they shoot the hostage and keep the money.

I recognize that I am, in fact, an entitled consumer. And I don’t know when we will all be traveling again. I don’t know how often I will need to travel for work. I don’t care that I was Concierge Key on American and have earned lifetime status. As soon as I have spent the money they are holding from me, I will cease to fly American unless there is no reasonable alternative.

American’s inflexibility and disregard for their customer’s expectations means that they will lose a “loyal” customer that has spent more than $100,000 a year on their airline because they refused to return the $1,000 in flights the customer couldn’t take – and has asked for in multiple ways, because they don’t even make it easy to request the refund. On the other hand, I’ll sing the praises of Cliq and their approach to customer satisfaction – maybe even on stages around the world to which I’ve flown a different airline.

I’ve finally figured out my problem with NPS

This article was first published on TheCustomer and is re-posted here with permission. NPS remains hugely popular, but this article has elicited a bunch of responses agreeing with the concerns. With that said, what are your preferred alternatives?

If you ask executives at Fortune 500 companies how likely it is that they would recommend the Net Promoter Score to their friends and colleagues, you’d probably get a pretty positive response. After all, in the 18 years or so since it was introduced, NPS has become ubiquitous – firms use it to gauge departmental progress and determine individuals’ bonuses, embed it into their operations, and cite it in earnings calls, .

But, if you’ve spent any time in the Customer Experience world, you’ll know that NPS is not without its detractors. Critics point out that the methodology measures intention, but not behavior. The fact that someone would recommend something doesn’t mean that they do recommend it. It also doesn’t indicate whether the customer will buy again. Others complain that it doesn’t capture real detractors – customers that actually discourage friends or family from using a product or service, as opposed to not promoting. Meanwhile, it is frequently abused by companies – whether intentionally or unintentionally. Still other detractors point out that the score lacks multi-dimensionality – for example, it can’t distinguish the fact that you might recommend a product or service only to some people or only in certain circumstances.

But, I have a more fundamental reason that I’m not a fan. Despite the fact that NPS is promoted and lauded throughout the Customer Experience industry, and despite the CX emphasis on companies being “outside-in,” I don’t believe that NPS provides an outside-in perspective.

As broadly used today, NPS is the equivalent of the apocryphal party boor who realizes they’re talking too much about themselves and blurts out “enough about me, what do YOU think of me?” There’s limited listening and no insight into what customers value and expect from a company or their peers.

An outside-in perspective should uncover your customers’ “why” – their attitudes, values, and their expectations of the relationship or the interaction. And, when captured effectively, this insight provides the framework for the brand to align with their customer expectations and meet their needs.

At the end of the day, the “ultimate question” just doesn’t provide the ultimate answer. Unless you’re doing real research into customer’s attitudes, values, and expectations, all NPS gives you is a number to allow executives to channel their inner Sally Fields and delight that “you like me.”

T-Mobile Can’t Even Meet Their Own Expectations

This article first appeared in TheCustomer. In the couple of days since it published, I’ve received lots of feedback that it struck a nerve. T-Mobile is not the only company that fails to live up to a customer’s expectation – most brands fail at some point. What seems to have registered is that T-Mobile raised the stakes, but then failed to live up to the expectations they had raised.

I was a T-Mobile customer for more than ten years. I was also a huge brand advocate. I lauded their “un-carrier” strategy on keynote stages around the world. We reached out to John Legere, T-Mobile’s very vocal CEO, for an interview when writing “Marketing to the Entitled Consumer” and quoted him in our book. As they rolled out their un-carrier strategy, I loved that T-Mobile didn’t charge me for data when I travelled overseas. I was fascinated by how they led the mobile industry in eliminating early termination fees and introduced innovative approaches to ensuring that streaming for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and others wouldn’t eat into to your data plan. So, it might be surprising to hear that even though T-Mobile still offers all of these benefits, I recently switched providers.

What was it that was so egregious that turned a brand ambassador into a lapsed customer? They simply stopped living up to my expectations. I’ve written before in these pages about the “transference of entitlement” – the idea that consumers’ expectations continuously rise based on their positive experiences. T-Mobile failed to keep pace with the expectations that they themselves had set.

I paid for an unlimited data plan for our entire family. Yet, on more than one occasion they slowed my data down to such a low pace that it rendered it useless. On the second occasion, I had used a couple of megabytes of data more than they included in their unlimited plan. I had less than 36 hours before my data clock would be reset for the next month, but T-Mobile wanted to charge me $15 to provide access to faster data. Across our family plan, we still had hundreds of gigabytes of unused data, but, the way T-Mobile saw it, they were on someone else’s plan.

Across our family plan, we still had hundreds of gigabytes of unused data, but, the way T-Mobile saw it, they were on someone else’s plan.

I probably would have continued to put up with this level of service until I filled in a customer satisfaction questionnaire. I was honest in my feedback. I heard nothing. In my mind, the un-carrier had become just another carrier. So, when Apple released its most recent stable of phones, and all of the carriers rolled out their offers to try to attract new customers, I surveyed the market and switched providers.

Despite spending thousands of dollars a year for more than a decade, nobody made any attempt to understand why I left or whether they could get me back. Which simply confirmed to me that I had made the right choice. T-Mobile was no longer capable of meeting my expectations — ones that they had helped to set — and so I took my business elsewhere.

Why do companies struggle to meet customer expectations? Most of the time, it’s because they make no real effort to understand them. Executives and marketing teams focus on which customers to target with an offer, rather than understanding their customers’ attitudes and values and aligning to meet — or exceed — them. Once upon a time, T-Mobile was a company that I pointed to as an example of a firm doing it right. Now, they can’t even meet their own expectations.

Random Acts of Hostility are Destroying Your Customer Loyalty

It is both staggering and deeply disappointing to see brands that I once respected lose their focus on the customer. It would seem that brands like American Express are letting their AI and decisioning technology over-ride human intelligence and empathy — the impact is an erosion in customer loyalty. I’ve been a customer of AmEx for about 25 years — since before I moved to America. I’m now looking at alternatives because of how they have treated my brother-in-law.

This article first appeared on TheCustomer.net, and is republished here with permission.

Random Acts of Hostility are Destroying Your Customer Loyalty
Somebody allowed an inadvertent act of hostility to enter the equation and now a once loyal, frequent, and happy customer is shopping for alternatives.

So called ‘random acts of kindness’ have been a feature of customer experience (CX) programs for some time. Firms empower their employees to find ways to surprise and delight customers during moments of interaction. These aren’t systematic and algorithmically calculated in the way an airline or hotel might upgrade one of their better customers, but something that is truly random. I often quote the example of Virgin Media in the UK, where several years ago a service employee sent a picture frame to a new broadband customer who mentioned that he had just become a grandfather for the first time. He wanted the high-speed internet to be able to Skype or FaceTime his family to see the baby as he grew. The employee sent the picture frame along with a note of congratulations – just because it was a kind thing to do.

There are hundreds of examples of employees at forward-thinking companies making these kinds of decisions and actions.

Unfortunately, there are thousands or hundreds-of-thousands of examples of companies performing the exact opposite — what I call “inadvertent acts of hostility.”

We’ve all been there – the airline that won’t refund your flight that they cancelled, but will give you a voucher for a future flight; the hotel that charges you for a night that you can’t stay due to delayed travel, and then doesn’t provide any rewards; the online subscription company that makes it super-simple to sign-up for their offering online, but requires you to call a number that nobody ever answers during very specific hours, and within a very specific timeframe; the refund that takes weeks, when the initial purchase took seconds, and so many others that chip away at customer loyalty.

Somebody somewhere allowed an inadvertent act of hostility to enter the equation. And, now a once loyal, frequent, and happy customer is shopping for alternatives.

Perhaps the worst example I’ve heard in a while though, was American Express. My brother-in-law has been a loyal and lucrative customer for 37 years. Two-weeks ago, he called to get approval for a large purchase that he was planning to make of equipment for a work project. They suggested he clear some of his balance, even though it wasn’t strictly necessary. He did so and got approval for the purchase.

A few days later, a hold was placed on his card. He called to ask why and was told that it was due to an usual change in his purchase behavior. The rep pointed out that he hadn’t made any similar payments in the previous six months. He asked the rep if he could look and see the conversation history that would point to the prior authorization that he had sought and received. He pointed out that purchasing six-figure sums of equipment during a global pandemic hadn’t been particularly necessary – so, yes, his spending behavior had changed.

He had been a customer for 37 years. He had never had one late payment. His next payment, which was minor, was not due for another several days. His next major payment would be due a month later. He had received authorization to make a purchase, even though the authorization was not necessary. He had cleared some of his balance in advance at the recommendation of the company.

Somebody somewhere allowed an inadvertent act of hostility to enter the equation. And, now a once loyal, frequent, and happy customer is shopping for alternatives.

It’s Time to Demystify Decisioning

Note: This is a slightly modified version of an article that first appeared on TheCustomer.net. I was a member of the research team and one of the primary authors of the report discussed in this post.

While marketers have spent years focused on understanding the customer journey and thinking about customer experience across the enterprise, power long-ago shifted to consumers.

Consumers interact with brands in more places, using more (and different) devices and channels than any time in history, yet they expect brands to know the history of their interactions, and to quickly solve theirs needs at the moment of interaction. And, they will punish a brand that fails—either by publicly calling them out, or simply by taking their business elsewhere at a moment’s notice.

The concepts of decisioning and orchestration are not new to marketers and advertisers. We have been hearing the still elusive “right message at the right time to the right consumer” promise for years now. Yet, effective omni-channel decisioning is simultaneously more complex and more important than ever.

A team of colleagues at Winterberry Group and I recently published research, “Demystifying Decisioning & Orchestration” which reveals that only 14% of marketers and advertisers are satisfied with their company’s decisioning technology – the so-called “brain” of the marketing tech stack.

The fact that every organization is at a different point in its decisioning and orchestration journey—and has a unique set of considerations – is reflected in the bespoke nature of most company’s solutions. Meanwhile, a confluence of misaligned processes, political and organizational issues, and fragmented approaches to technology impact the ability of many organizations to successfully implement and evolve its approach.

Decisioning is rarely discussed without mentioning its partner, orchestration, referring to the coordination and delivery of next-best actions determined by the decisioning engine. Orchestration moves analytics outputs and insights through the martech and adtech stack to inform activation in the application layer. This function enables marketers to leverage data and insights across disparate technology platforms and solve for real-time, cross-channel customer journey execution. If decisioning is the brain, then orchestration is the central nervous system within a marketer’s technology stack.

Reflecting these challenges and divergent approaches, our research identified three levels of sophistication among brands – and categorized the levels as those employing a channel-based, multi-channel, and omnichannel approach. Within the most sophisticated firms, marketing decisioning engines solve for decisions both at a macro level – centralized across applications and channels – and at micro levels – at points of customer interaction based on behavioral and environmental triggers.

The research, which is based on contributions from more than 50 senior executives representing marketers, advertisers, publishers, decisioning and orchestration platforms, agencies and data providers, is available for free download here.

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

thebreakers_maindrive.jpg

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?

mcdonalds-drive-thru-menu-boards-day

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?