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.

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.

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.

Want to Be Customer Obsessed? Forrester Recommends Starting With Email

Shar VBCustomer Obsession is a theme that Forrester has spent the past few years researching and advocating. It’s not so different from consumer-first marketing. Both terms refer to the practice of allowing insights about consumer behavior to dictate brand behavior.

In a recent Forbes interview, analyst Shar VanBoskirk explained that many brands understand the idea of Customer Obsession, but get stuck when they try to implement it. In a big company, so many processes are already in place to push merchandise, run a sale, or send mass messages that personalizing interactions or communicating with individuals based on their needs is hard to prioritize.

Shar’s research shows that email is an affordable, effective tool that brands can use to become more customer obsessed. It makes sense. Most brands have email platforms, email experts and a lot of information about the consumers that receive their messages. The email team also usually has a reasonable amount of autonomy to direct their messaging strategy.

Rather than think of email as only a promotional tool, email should be used as a communication channel, where marketers interact with individuals. Email can be used for market research, for personalized updates based on past behavior, or just to create goodwill with heartwarming stories.

Shar cites Hilton as a good example. The company delivers a personalized “year in review” email that shows a customer everywhere they traveled, loyalty rewards, and how close they were to reaching the next level of loyalty status. This simple (and automated!) email then allows for Hilton to create ongoing customer-obsessed communication. For example, Hilton could easily send a follow-up that helps the customer achieve extra points to graduate from gold to platinum member status.

Email marketers can be customer obsessed without overhauling the marketing department. Hilton doesn’t need to know every single thing about a customer to send a personalized email, they just need to pull a year’s worth of sales activity into a standard template.  Many customer-obsessed email campaigns can be relatively straightforward, like reminding people what’s in their shopping cart before it expires. Or they can be really complicated. Netflix uses an algorithm to understand consumer’s preferences and recommend movies. Customer-obsessed email campaigns can also pull double-duty. Many personalized digital companies from Birch-Box to TheNest use survey emails to better understand customer preferences – and these messages get significant customer participation. Some companies like Spotify put little survey questions throughout their online experience to gather data when the consumer is most engaged.

Yet, even before data is gathered, the concept of thinking about the customer’s needs must become part of the planning. Someone at Hilton understood that customers react well to seeing a review of their past activity and that the personal touch will mean significantly more than another “Labor Day Weekend Sale” message.

This insight might be the best takeaway from Shar’s research – that email marketers have the power to think about what communication the customer might want, and then craft a campaign around that concept. A customer-obsessed email marketer would try to determine what makes those customers tick first and build around that, rather than blast them with “clever” but vanilla messages that focus only on extoling the products virtues, rather than truly connecting with the consumers’ needs.

 

adidas shows how to demonstrate shared values

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I’m not exactly a fan of (American) Football. But, when you live in Florida, you can’t avoid the hype – especially as it relates to college football. This weekend the University of Miami will kick-off their season against LSU, which ordinarily wouldn’t interest me in the slightest. However, one story that caught my eye is that the Miami team uniforms will be made of repurposed and recycled materials. 

The uniforms were created by adidas in partnership with Parley For The Oceans – a partnership that began a few years ago with a limited edition sneaker, and has grown to include other partnerships with Stella McCartney, iconic European (round ball) football teams such as Manchester United, Juventus, and Real Madrid, World Cup national teams, and now, the Miami Hurricanes.

I first became aware of the adidas-Parley relationship last Christmas. My son wanted a pair of their sneakers, and I honestly thought the recycled plastic thing was a gimmick. But, at the same time, I was happy that he thought it was important. And, we had told him he could pick his own pair.

Since I saw the Hurricanes news, I clicked through to a few other articles and was really impressed with adidas’ strategy and commitment. This is no gimmick. Some of their shoes built with recycled materials are highly rated by serious runners and magazines. In 2017, adidas sold 1 million pairs of these shoes, is aiming for 5 million this year, and hopes to only use recycled plastic in its shoes by 2024

This is actually a really impressive demonstration of aligning with customer values. There’s so much bluster about straws and plastic bags in the news these days, and here’s a major brand quietly making a difference. In June and July, more than 900,000 runners participated in adidas and Parley’s “Run for the Oceans” – completing more than 12 million kilometers, including at events in 15 major world cities. adidas also put its money where it’s social consciousness is and matched the first million kilometers run with $1 per km in funding for Parley Ocean School initiatives.

In Miami, after the game, the adidas x Parley A1 jerseys will be auctioned off, with proceeds to benefit the world renowned University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS).

In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, we advocate that brands should “align company values with your consumers’ values.” adidas gives a perfect example of how to execute on this principle.

Enjoy the long weekend – and, if you’re into it, enjoy the game!

What’s your whining channel of choice?

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 9.33.58 AMI was listening to a podcast this morning when the interviewee mentioned that his twitter account had just been verified. If you didn’t know, Twitter verifies “accounts of public interest” so that the public can know that each is an authentic account. The interviewer, who already has a verified account, quipped that the best thing about that was that the interviewee’s complaints would now be dealt with more quickly by companies.

I laughed, and then I realized the inherent message. Some communications channels are better than others for whining. And, I know I’m guilty too. I’ve shouted into the Twitter ether (tweether?) at Comcast, US Airways (now part of American), Avis, ProFlowers, Starwood Hotels, JetBlue, and countless others.

For sure, there’s something cathartic about firing off a tweet in the moment to bitch about some shoddy service or deplorable experience. But, there’s more to it than that. Generally, you’re far more likely to get a response via Twitter than calling a service center (many of which have caused the present consternation in the first place). The social teams at most brands are really quick to respond to questions and complaints on Twitter. Of course, it helps that they know that your followers, and their followers will see your tweet and their response.

Few social teams are empowered to resolve your concern, although I have had some success with teams helping route me to the right people to resolve an issue. But, the cynic in me would say that a major part of their role is to remove the conversation from the public view, and prevent the negative story from gaining traction.

Let me take the example of ProFlowers. In May, my wife received flowers from a friend which were dry and shrivelled when they arrived. My wife called the customer service team who sent a new bouquet. This happened three times. By now, they were sending free vases and had refunded my wife’s friend. I took to twitter after the third screw-up, and the ProFlowers team responded within 15 minutes. They were apologetic, and gave me an email address that I was expected to contact to come to a resolution. Since, I didn’t expect anything to change, I didn’t email them. But, they succeeded in making it look like they were concerned and responsive. However, I will never buy anything from ProFlowers. I will never recommend ProFlowers. I will be an active brand assassin every time I tell this story.

What ProFlowers, and most other companies, fail to realize is although they quashed the public conversation, they didn’t resolve my issue. They never followed up. They lost my trust. They showed that they are not consumer-first. And, they’ve earned a brand assassin as a result. It’s not enough to deal with and try to limit or hide the whining. Understand the customer’s real concern, and do everything you can to make it right. That’s consumer-first. And, it’s critical when seeking to engage and build relationships with entitled consumers.

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.