Posts Tagged Customer Experience

Simplicity Sells

Flip CamPeople who own Flip cams will tell you how much they love(d) them. I’m one of them. If you are too, ask yourself one question – are you carrying around your flip? Do you have it within an arm’s length of you right now? Probably not. And that my friends is why Cisco ended up closing up it’s Flip business. In it’s heyday it was pure cinematic magic. It fit in your pocket, was easy to use and may have even recorded in HD.

Today, those things are still important but now you’ve got your iPhone, your Android or (gasp) your Blackberry. Mine is 8 inches away from my left hand and it’s rare for it to be much further than that. And oh besides pics and movies, my smartphone also has music, texts, apps and this crazy thing called e-mail.

Do you know who is the #1 manufacturer of cameras in the world? …wait for it…. Nokia. That’s right. The world’s #1 camera maker also happens to be one of the worlds top cell makers. Now you could quickly interpret this as a blog post advocating feature integration, and it is to a degree, but simplicity doesn’t have to be about integration. In fact – adding more features isn’t necessarily a good thing. But it’s important to note that simplicity of yesterday may quickly become the inconvenience of today (which I surmise is why flip struggled to make it in today’s environment).

So here are three more products besides the Flip, who in my opinion, are on similar paths. At one time great products, these now face some serious issues in simplifying their functionality, whether it be a more integrated experience, changing market dynamics or simply better competition.

1) Rhapsody Music. I love the idea of Rhapsody. I never have to actually “pay” for music. For a flat fee, I download as much music as I want to multiple devices and I never have to worry about backing it up. That said, Rhapsody to-go, due to digital rights management, only works on a select number of handheld devices. It’s great if most of your consumption can be via computer and streaming but bad if you are a commuter or frequent traveler. And it should come as no surprise that Rhapsody and Apple haven’t really figured out how to play ball on this particular issue.

2) Time Warner Cable – or cable companies in general, at one time a must have in every American household. The advent of DVR and on-demand programming likely helped stave off some user attrition but cable companies are in for some rough times as most of the major networks are already giving content away for free and on demand. Then add in services like Netflix. Paying for cable and DVR subscriptions is quickly becoming more of an annoyance than a convenience. Most services still haven’t figured out how to let people access their recorded content remotely, not to mention we as consumers have gotten use to getting content for free.

3) Healthcare providers. I’m continually shocked by how few providers actually provide value added services like remote consultations via video conferencing. How few actually let you schedule appointments online. How many still confirm appointments by phone rather than text or email. Healthcare is in a sorry state. The only saving grace right now is that everyone is more or less in the same boat – competing against mediocrity. But sooner or later, that will shift and the winners will quickly be separated from the losers. Here is a great article from Fast Company that paints a very encouraging picture for the future of the patient experience.

I’m sure collectively we can think of dozens more but these are the products/services I use today that I believe face some serious challenges if they are to compete in today’s integrated market, one where consumers in a singular voice are demanding simplicity. Marketers can no longer create products in a vacuum where they address a singular need. Needs are converging and the lines are becoming blurred. What others can you add to this list?

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Social Media Overdose

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Do you have a blog?
What’s your Twitter handle?
Are you on LinkedIn?
Facebook me!
Let’s start an internal group on Yammer!
We need to start a community!

Everyday we are bombarded with the pressure to join some type of social media platform – some old, some new, but in either case there’s always this huge fuss about being part of it… as if to say that if you’re not doing all of the above, you’re somehow missing out on the next big thing.

Let’s clear the air – the power of social media is not about in the tools or the number of them in your arsenal – it’s how you use the tools, how the network of relevant users is using those tools and whether or not each one is serving a distinct purpose. Truth be told, not every tool is going to be applicable for your purposes and so… YOU DON’T NEED TO BE ON EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.

Case in point… Seth Godin does not tweet. Yes, he has a twitter handle but it’s nothing more than a feed for his blog. He doesn’t have comments enabled on his blog, and he doesn’t respond to Twitter @replies. Yet, you’ve probably read his blog. His purpose, to communicate an idea and to see if that idea sticks. Plain and simple. You won’t find him tweeting up opinions on politics or responding to some dissident view point.

OK OK… so that’s Seth Godin – you could argue that’s an atypical example. But does that mean you as a marketer need to be doing all of the above. If anything, I’d argue if the point of social media is about starting an engaged and collaborative conversation -why would you make it so difficult for people to track (potentially) multiple conversations. Instead, wouldn’t you want to bring your audience to a single, focused platform where they can engage with not only you but the rest of your audience?

So while I’m all about embracing the benefits of social media, I also believe that the benefits become dilutive when we go too broad. I’ll leave you with this simple analogy I heard a colleague say to me today…

“I buy the drill for the hole that it leaves, not because I want more tools.”

In other words, don’t go buying the latest, fanciest drill when a simpler (less expensive) one will do .Don’t create multiple conversations when one will do. Don’t create multiple channels when one will do. If you have a great blog where people are engaged – do you really need to pull people away to a linkedin group?

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Placing product placement

A chilly Saturday

Saturday morning I went to put some gas in my car. After swiping my card and putting the handle in the tank, I was left to wonder why gas wasn’t being delivered to my car while I watched my breath freeze in the cool Wisconsin morning. A quick inspection of the gas pump display revealed an “upsell opportunity,” asking me whether a car wash appealed to me.

As a marketer, I understand the theory behind cross selling to increase awareness and revenues from other products in your portfolio. But as a guy standing in the freezing cold, I was just the slightest bit annoyed at having to press yet another button before the thing I had paid for was delivered to me.

Flash forward to Saturday afternoon. Kris and I took in a showing of Tron:Legacy. As has been the case for the past few years, before the actual movie played we were “treated” to a series of previews and other commercials, a combination of studios, in-house promotions, and soda company missives presenting us with opportunity after opportunity to buy things. And while the ticket says that the movie starts at a certain time, we all know that its really the ads that start at the time printed on the ticket while the movie starts 10-15 minutes later.

Are products placed in movies? Or are movies placed in product ads?

And then at some point in the movie, Kris mentioned that the product placements were so lacking in subtlety that they was becoming distracting. I spotted placements for Nokia, Ducati motorcycles, BMW motorcycles, and Coors beer. None were subtle, pausing for at least an extra moment on the brand’s logo. While they weren’t as disrupting to the movie’s flow as the scene in The Truman Show where Laura Linney turns to the camera mid-sentence and plugs laundry detergent, they did break up the rhythm and pull me out of the story for a few seconds.

I half expected the whole grid to be sponsored by Cisco, “The Human Network (TM)”.

Product placement is nothing new. It can be traced back to the earliest days of film and television, and its use today seemingly outpaces the traditional 30 second spot. You might say that its a small price to pay for ensuring that we continue to get quality entertainment at a reasonable price, that brands have the right to advertise their wares in any way they want so long as they pay for it, that its not really that bad.

My problem is not that it happens; my problem is that more and more its being done very very poorly. Something has changed in the medium in the past year or so. Whereas you would have never see James Bond pull up in his Aston Martin and, before stepping out, turn to the camera and read 10 seconds of benefit-selling copy, somehow its OK for the cast of Psych to sit and discuss the new Ford Fusion for 30 seconds before getting back to the story.

It occurs to me that the real problem here is not the subtlety with which the ads are placed, nor is it the skill with which the stories are told.

No, its the sheer audacity with which the marketers replace the customers’ goals with their own.

Its a lot like garage sales

Have you ever been to a garage sale where the items are grossly overpriced considering what they are? A situation where you just know the person took their purchase price, subtracted a few dollars, and wrote it on the sticker, never minding the fact that the item is 4 years and 3 generations old? Perhaps you’ve even been that person, trying valiantly to assign what you think is a fair price to something you have loved and cherished, not stopping to think that others might see it as only stuff (hat tip to Dan Benjamin’s The Pipeline podcast for the revelation).

The products placed in the movie, the pre-movie ads, the in-show car ads, and even the car wash offer at the gas station all share one critical similarity – they all lack a certain amount of contextual awareness that tells them that telling their story is not the most important part of the experience.

Put another way: they don’t fully grasp where they fit in the equation.

As marketers we spend a lot of time talking about unmet user needs, about developing products that address customer pain points, about understanding and extending the user experience.

But wouldn’t it be terrible if all of that hard work was lost because we couldn’t keep ourselves from annoying our customers?

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Is doing what you promised enough?

I have been a Rhapsody music subscriber for some time. I love the idea of music on demand and never paying for individual tracks. I love downloading a new artist and then later deciding if I like them without incurring any incremental cost one way or the other.

What I don’t like is the fact that Rhapsody has not figured out an application for the Blackberry. I can either play music on my Rhapsody compatible player or on my laptop. Rhapsody has apps for both iPhone and Droid but no blackberry and while I’d love to switch to either, I’m bound to a standard corporate issued blackberry.

Before this comes off as just another rant, let me say this post was prompted by an interesting thread going on in the Rhapsody community. It’s interesting from the standpoint that there are a lot of annoyed, loyal Rhapsody subscribers out there waiting for a blackberry app. But even more interesting is some of the arguments being made both against and in defense of Rhapsody.

The argument against: This app was more or less announced last year as coming in “early” 2010. Hmmm… well clearly, they missed that one. There’s supposed to be a beta coming out but I have not heard of anyone being chosen, so I can only assume its not out yet. People are waiting, people have expressed a want / need, and Rhapsody has more or less failed to deliver on this. This in turn has prompted some customer defections.

The defense: One writer makes the point that when we signed up for Rhapsody, a blackberry app was never part of the deal (unless you signed up with the expectation that the app was coming). We willingly signed up or continue to subscribe despite alternatives out there, so really it’s not like there’s a real disservice going on.

So if you buy the latter argument, I ask this question…

Is it enough to provide exactly what customers signed up for (and nothing more)?

Is it enough to justify the disappointment being expressed across a broad community of blackberry / rhapsody users? To me, the answer is like everything in marketing, and that is “it depends.” Here’s my thoughts on when it’s enough….

1) When you’re the only game in town. That’s pretty obvious, and in this case we all know Rhapsody is not the only game in town.

2) When you…  um…. well, ok, there’s really only one reason.

I guess you could say there are ways to better communicate value, to create community, and all that jazz. But at the end of the day, when customers have expressed a need that can be met by a competitor, continuing to do just what you say you’re going to do isn’t enough.

So the only question remaining is, why am I still with Rhapsody? Like so many on the referenced thread, apathy – a powerful attribute which will keep customers around for a bit (think cable and phone) but sooner or later that goodwill will run out. The irony is that rather than spend the hour or so to switch services, I instead chose to write this blog. So obviously, I haven’t reached that tipping point yet, but I’ll let you know if we get there.

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The focus on customer retention

So I realize I’ve been harping on this for a while, but I just got this update from e-marketer that got me fired up. As reported by e-marketer, a study by Unisfair reports that 6/10 marketers say customer acquisition is a critical priority. No surprise. What is  surprise however, is that less than HALF of those surveyed said customer retention was important. I know I’ve been on my soapbox lately on the customer experience, but EVERY marketer should consider retention a priority…because once a customer leaves you, consider the cost of replacing that customer via acquisition which is 10x the cost of simply retaining that original customer.

Customers generally leave due to negative experiences (poor price, service, compatibility, etc.). What the survey tells me is that 50% of marketers are basically ok not placing the customer relationship as a priority.

Am I the only one out there who finds this problematic? It just takes one angry customer to tell 10 more, or even 100 more people about their experience. In the case of Dave Carroll and United Airlines, 5 million folks have seen “United Breaks Guitars“. So why wouldn’t customer retention be a priority?

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Customer Service Rant Revisited

This is a follow up to my last post: Customer Service Rant

DEFINE IRONY: When after completely botching the customer experience, Time Warner Cable sends you a mailer asking you to come back at a 30% reduction in price. This is a perfect example of how not to treat customers. Why is it that companies come to their senses only after you’ve ceased to do business with them?

What is it that makes it ok to not value a customer relationship until its lost?

Acquiring a customer is 10 times more costly than simply retaining a customer. And as proof, it will take more than one lousy mailer to make me come back, even at the huge discount they are offering me (which by the way they should have offered in the first place – as you can read in the previous blog, I left in large part because of the gradual but significant creep in my monthly subscription fee).

Rather than make this a total rant…some advice for marketers and service providers the world over:

1) Keeping customers happy is ALWAYS easier than trying to win them back after decidedly not making them happy.

See “United Breaks Guitars” as a GREAT example. After decidely failing to reimburse a customer for damage to a beautiful Taylor guitar, country artist composes and posts song to Youtube. With over 5 million views it has cost United Airlines an estimated $180 million in market value.

2) Asking a customer to return just a month after you’ve explicitly devalued that customer relationship is insulting. I don’t think I really need to further explain this point. We all know the feeling.

3) If you’re going to woo a customer back, don’t do it with a mailer that cost you $1.

The most valuable customer relationship managnent lesson I’ve ever learned… The best way to overcome disappointing a customer, is to go back and ask for more. Face to face, one on one, whatever it is that makes the most economic sense.  In this case, a phone call thus making it a TWO-WAY conversation would have been better. I probably would have told TWC to you-know-what, but that would have been the first (of many) steps to rebuild a broken relationship.

I’m not going to put out a youtube video about TWC, but the very fact that I’m writing this blog is proof that in today’s digital age, a singular customer experience has the ability to dramatically impact (Positively or Negatively) an image beyond just that one touch point.

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Customer Service Rant

Several weeks ago My wife and I were at a movie theater around town (for my local friends, the Marcus Majestic). And we were sitting in their new dinner style theater, complete with individual captains chairs, tables going across each row and an attentive wait staff which could be summoned with a dimly lit light at your table. The experience is truly one of a kind and was completely worth the added premium in ticket price (about $1 more, though I’m sure the food was also more expensive).

As we sat waiting for the previews to begin, chowing on popcorn, I noticed each seat had a pamphlet on ATTs new Uverse offering. I considered at the moment what a great idea that was. You have a captive audience that clearly values the multi-media experience, and since this is a full service dining experience, chances are folks were coming in before showtime and would have time to kill (as we did).  During this time I had also become increasingly annoyed with time warner cable who over the past six months had raised our prices on three separate occasions, all due to promotions expiring. I’m ok with this when its within reason…but our cable/internet charges spiked 50%.  Talk about a bait and switch. So already inclined to say good bye to TWC, we switched to uverse that week. I’m not quite a Uverse evangelist but so far, I’ll say it as been great, especially since its completely integrated with a multitude of online accessible features (the video quality is also perceptibly better).

OK…let me now get to the purpose of this rant…Why Time Warner Cable sucks.

1) When I called into to disconnect our service, TWC informed me that they could not cancel until they physically had the cable box in their posession. OK…I can understand that to a degree.  So my wife accomodatingly drives there that day, at which point we expect a refund for any unused service, right? Wrong. 4-6 weeks.

2) 4 weeks go by…Instead of a check, we get another bill. It would seem “Mr. Kaneta, that when you returned your equipment, the store failed to issue a disconnect.” So not only did I not get a credit, I got another bill and had another month’s worth of fees charged to my credit card.

3) I call up TWC (the rep was actually very polite and helpful)…we work it out such that an agent will arrive at our house to do the disconnect in a week but I won’t be charged for anything beyond the day I returned equipment. Great…except they can’t send me my money until 4-6 weeks after disconnect. So all told I’m out 2 months of service fees that will take 10 weeks from the day I cancelled to show up in my mail box (if I’m lucky)

4) Sadly this is not the first time this has happened to me with TWC. How often does TWC fail to disconnect and charge their customers?!?!? Truly an unbelievably poor service experience… With as much as they spend on customer acquisition, you would think retention and user experience would rank among one of their priorities.

So with that being said, Time Warner now ranks among my five worst service providers on the planet. In no particular order because they all suck… 1) Time Warner Cable. 2) Sprint. 3) Stonegate Properties (my first apartment after college). 4) CARTUS Relocation Consultants. 5) The money-eating vending machine in my office.

Congrats Time Warner Cable… you’ve officially moved from mediocre to suckville.

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