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

Data Transparency Delivers Long Term Benefits

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I was interviewed by DMNews for a piece on the challenges of delivering personalization to consumers who are skeptical about sharing their data.  It’s a good piece that underscores the importance of telling consumers the truth about what you intend to do with their data and the benefits they will receive.

 

Do your supply chain and distribution channels impact your Entitled Consumer?

I had a great conversation yesterday with an omnichannel apparel manufacturer and retailer. This company – which primarily makes and sells footwear – sells them differently in different markets. In some cases, a product or brand might be sold 100% retail; in others, it’s 100% wholesale; and in the majority, it’s a blend of retail, wholesale, and e-commerce. What was interesting in the context of The Entitled Consumer, is that the head of marketing referred to experiencing the “entitled” phenomenon in some of their retailers – especially smaller, specialty retailers that have a niche focus and physical presence. These merchants don’t have huge stock rooms and they don’t want to hold inventory of every style in every size in the hopes that a customer will wander in. But, they do want the manufacturer to be able to get them the specific product they want as soon as a customer wants to buy it. Compare that to the typical four month process that the manufacturer’s typical large retailer follows. The manufacturer is having to rethink their processes, systems, and relationships to adapt to now-entitled sales partners.

amazon-logo-copy-800x258And, then today, news emerged that Amazon is requiring merchants that sell through their site to adopt the same consumer-friendly policies as Amazon offers its direct customers – mostly relating to making returns easier and way more convenient for the consumer. In some cases, Amazon is even eliminating the need for a return. Yep, with “returnless refunds,” consumers will get their refund without having to send back a product that is expensive to ship or hard to resell. Small businesses are up in arms. They fear that the new policies will ‘crush’ their businesses. And, while some will look for new distribution channels, others will adapt to the new Amazon requirements.

What’s interesting is that CNBC in their coverage pointed out that “It’s no secret that Jeff Bezos’ first, second and third objectives are to please Amazon customers, giving them more stuff at the lowest prices and at faster speeds.” But, can they do that and maintain their relationships with sellers – and if those sellers leave will others just quickly take their place?

One thing is for sure, Amazon is one of the companies that will continue to raise the bar of what an Entitled Consumer expects from their relationship with a brand. The challenge for the rest of us is to do the same, but also to do so profitably, and to maintain a healthy and sustainable ecosystem (manufacturing, supply chain, and distribution chain).

If you haven’t started to adapt to the Entitled Consumer, don’t wait too long – or Amazon might have completely undermined your business model while you weren’t watching.