It all depends on what you call it…

I’m on a bit of a classification or categorization kick lately. For some reason, it bothers me when I read about my Pebble being described as a “smartwatch”. I don’t think the watch itself is smart. It’s simply a display for what a real smart device — my phone — is beaming to it. Is it wearable technology? I guess, kinda. But isn’t a regular wristwatch wearable technology? So then, a connected device. Sure, but apparently, it’s one of about 3,000. As it relates to my watch, it really doesn’t matter to me. And, either way, I love the watch. But, in other areas, how we classify things does matter.

Given my background, one of the things I’ve been thinking about of late are classifications within the marketing services ’space’ — that is, everything from marketing service providers, agencies, or outsourced providers. It’s probably no surprise that I’m particularly interested in those of the the data-driven, digital, and engagement oriented types. I’m having lots of conversations with these service-oriented companies that no longer know what to call themselves (“are we an MSP, an agency, or something else?”) as well as marketers and customer experience professionals that don’t know how to choose a provider (“everyone claims to do the same thing and we have no way of distinguishing them”). So, I’m keen to look closer at this and perhaps even put forward a classification of sorts that might be helpful. I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts about where things are headed.

Separately, or maybe, relatedly, I’m interested in corporate goals as they relate to customers. I’ve getting ready to publish the results of a survey of professionals responsible for customer relationships, and while I haven’t yet got all the results tabbed, it’s already clear that respondents like to think of themselves as customer-centric, or as focused on customer experience, and yet when you look at responses to other questions, there is little control being given to customers and little emphasis on customer-percieved value. As I look at the data, I’m keen to see if there’s a way to classify a firm’s approach to customers – for example they may claim to be experience focused, but what needs to be in place for them to be able to check that box and actually prove that they are? I’ll hopefully be able to publish a perspective in the next week or so, but if you already have a perspective, again, I’d love to hear your thoughts.



Jeff Bezos: the new Lance Armstrong?

I’m an Amazon customer. And, have been for about sixteen years – back when they were an online book seller. But, I’m more than that, I’m an Amazon Prime customer and an Amazon credit card holder. And, I have a sinking feeling that I’ve been had. This weekend an article in Salon referenced some pretty Orwellian, or maybe Dickensian, sounding practices that allegedly describe the internal culture at Amazon.

For six-and-a-half years while I was at Forrester, I always asked interviewees who they thought of as great at customer intelligence and leveraging customer data to serve customers better. Amazon was one of the companies that was most often mentioned. Personally, I’ve not been impressed with their customer intelligence for a while. It feels like their recommendation engine — despite being one of the companies that created the category — hasn’t kept pace with the likes of a Pandora or a Netflix. Yet, where I always applauded them, and where I referenced them as a great example of customer-centricity relates to their culture. And, particularly, the notion that an empty chair is left around meeting room tables supposed to represent the customer, who is always present; and how decisions were made, supposedly on how they impacted or benefitted the customer.

Yet, if the Salon article – and the referenced public issues in Europe — are true, it feels like it’s all been a ruse.

As part of a report that I’m working on, just yesterday I interviewed two senior executives who serve in customer relationship-oriented roles at major US corporations (due to promised anonymity, I can’t disclose who, but trust me you’d recognize (and probably love) the brands). What was interesting to me during those interviews – and this was before I’d read the Salon article – was their genuine attempts to do what’s right by the customer. One referenced a willingness by the senior-most executive in his multi-billion dollar division to explicitly take a short-term revenue hit in order to do right by the customer, because they know it’ll ultimately lead to a longer-term, more-loyal customer. The other interviewee spoke about employee engagement as a key part of her role in getting customer engagement right. It seems so far removed from what I just read about Amazon.

Being a huge cycling fan, I have a feeling right now that reminds me of when I first read about Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis’ doping scandals. A big part of you knew it had to be true, but you didn’t really want to believe it (there wasn’t that much of me that didn’t believe Lance was guilty). I’ll hope, for now, that this is a vendetta story designed to hurt Amazon, possibly planted by a competitor. But, there’s a part of me that’s checking when my credit card and Prime membership renew so that I can be ready to cancel if I learn that the story is true. It’s one thing to not focus on building customer relationships. But, if you position yourself as one of the best, try living up to it.



Pope Francis gives a lesson in culture change

I finally got around to reading the Time Magazine article about how and why it chose Pope Francis as its Person of the Year for 2013. Plenty has been written about the choice, but whether you agree with it or not, I found it a great example of how a leader sets the tone for an organization. Pope Francis hasn’t changed any doctrine. There’s no new mission for the Catholic Church. But by reinforcing – particularly in his actions – christian teaching, he has apparently energized millions “far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.”

Time coverAs Time put it, the most remarkable thing is that “he hasn’t changed the words, but he’s changed the music.” He doesn’t just say that we should love our neighbor; or that ‘he that has two coats should give to him that has none’. He has washed the feet of a muslim woman, kissed the face of a disfigured man, and nobody was surprised when he became the subject of rumors that he sneaks out at night to administer to the poor.

Every leader in every organization sets the tone for the entire organization. It’s not enough to preach about mission and vision. Leaders have to demonstrate their true belief in the cause. When Terry Lundgrun changed the title on his door to “Chief Customer Officer” it sent a message to all Macy’s employees that the focus on customer centricity at Macy’s was an initiative supported at the very top. And, so many other firms we point to as “best in class” — Disney, Amazon, Zappos — have leaders that demonstrate their commitment to their customers. It’s not just talk.

To borrow from Time’s phrase, I find most firms have figured out customer-centric words. But they haven’t discovered the music. Too often firms focus on the data and technology elements of customer centricity. But, unless they are grounded in, and guided by a culture that wishes to place customers at the center of the business, then data, analytics, and technology are just tools and instruments. Of course, strengthening customer relationships absolutely requires an understanding of the customer, and also an ability to apply that knowledge. And, therefore data and analytics, technology and systems are important. But the culture and direction of the business; the extent to which it wishes to put the customer at the core of the business, is critical. And, that has to be driven from the top. If your firm doesn’t have a leader that you believe wants to be customer centric, then any efforts you make will be incremental at best and, potentially, simply cosmetic. The time may have come to turn your efforts inward. It might be time to market internally to change the perception and emphasis. Either that, or dust off your resume and seek out a firm with a true believer at the top.



How popular is your “animosity program”?


Wheels coming offFirms spend millions of dollars on loyalty programs — not all of which drive loyalty, of course. And, they go out of their way to try to measure and track loyalty. But how many firms track animosity? How do they know when the wheels are coming off a customer relationship? I doubt I’m alone in having brands that I will go out of my way to avoid. I’ve written about my experience with Starwood Hotels. And, I will never knowingly rent a car from Hertz (after they charged me for two one way trips in the same car). And, to round out my travel examples, I’ve just gone from being an ardent and vocal fan of JetBlue to joining the animosity program they might not know exists.

Why, am I down on JetBlue? Because I expect more from them and they failed to deliver. We go out of our way as a family to fly JetBlue. For example, we are flying JetBlue to NY this Christmas and then Aer Lingus (their partner) to Dublin — despite the fact that it cost more than on another airline. When I called to see if we could change our flight to NY by a couple of days, they told me that the difference in price was $1 and that they would waive it. They told me they would book it and send me confirmation — I was on the phone with them for 45 minutes and they were extremely apologetic that it was taking so long. All of which is behavior and customer care that I expect from JetBlue.

But, then they called me back to tell me that changing my flight to NY would require us to pay for a business class ticket to Dublin despite the fact that we weren’t looking to change our flight to Dublin. In speaking/tweeting with some travel industry experts, this is apparently normal procedure — once you change one leg of a booking, the whole thing must be re-ticketed, and the Aer Lingus flight, which is now sold out, would cost a lot more. Where JetBlue fell down in my opinion was in a) trying to blame their partner, and b) not showing any empathy. JetBlue has just gone from an airline that I felt stood out from the crowd, to one that is the same as the rest. But because my expectations were higher, I’m more annoyed with them than I might have been in the same situation with AA or Delta.

JetBlue bill of rightsOur perception of customer experience is directly linked to our expectations. It’s why Costco scores highly in every customer experience index. They meet or exceed their customer’s expectations extremely well. When I think about the companies and brands for which I’m a card-carrying member of their animosity program, it’s either because they were unreasonable (hello, Hertz) or because they failed to meet the expectations that I had formed. For a non-travel example, consider the Cleveland Clinic. When I was at Forrester, one of their senior executives had spoken at our Customer Experience Forum, and had impressed me enough to switch doctors to the Cleveland Clinic in Palm Beach. All went well, initially, until they sent me to another Cleveland Clinic facility for tests. I’d had some sinus trouble and they wanted to do more detailed tests. I drove for 45 minutes to the other facility, waited for more than an hour to be seen, sat with a nurse and then a doctor for another 20 minutes or so, only to find out that the doctor I was seeing was an allergist (I already have one) and not an ENT (which is what I needed). The doctor was polite and apologetic, but when I explained the story to the receptionist, her response was, “so do you want to make another appointment”. A year later, nobody has ever followed up. If I hadn’t had raised expectations, I might still have given up on them, but with raised expectations, I just joined their animosity program.

And, I recognize that customer’s expectations might not be realistic. It seems my expecting an airline to charge me to change the leg of a flight that I’m changing and not one that I’m not, is unrealistic within the travel industry thanks to inter-airline policies and acronyms that, as a flyer, I just don’t care about. So, you can’t change the policy, but does that mean you can’t get around it? It might not be worth it to JetBlue, but they’ve now lost the loyalty and advocacy of a Mosaic family. I will now only fly JetBlue if and when it works for me – and probably begrudgingly. I might be high on my own opinion of self-worth, but if JetBlue had offered to fly me to NY on a separate reservation and then let me fly to Dublin on my original reservation, they’d have surpassed my already high expectations of them. Instead, they’ve positioned themselves in my mind with United and Ryan Air. Perhaps some naivety and innocence lost on my end; but a loyal customer and advocate lost on theirs.

To go back to my original question though, I’m not convinced that many firms look to measure and understand animosity. I was taking to an agency CEO a few weeks ago who pointed out that because of a bad experience, he had gone from spending hundreds of dollars a week on food for his dogs to not shopping with the store — a national pet chain. Nobody has ever contacted him to ask whether there was something that had happened or something they could do to bring him back. He had one bad experience, and now shops elsewhere. And, nobody seems to notice or to care. In an era in which it’s possible to analyze buying behavior and to predict that a teenager is pregnant before her parents know, surely it’s possible for firms to frequently ask:

  • what are our customers expectations and are we meeting them?
  • what have we done to delver value or to upset customers?
  • why has a frequent/loyal customers behavior changed, and can we change it back?

When it’s possible to analyze and predict so much, it’s not always the analysis that’s interesting. Sometimes, it’s the question. This might be a good time to look at what your data scientists are evaluating, and ask whether you’re asking the right questions to understand, meet, and exceed customer expectations; and to recognize and repair the damage when something goes wrong.



Not stuck in park!

I don’t expect to get a great customer experience from local Government services. Which, made it all the more pleasant when I did. I went to my son’s school late last week for a presentation that he gave (and he did amazingly well). All of the school parking spots were taken, so I parked at a meter.

ParkMobile emailAnd, the meters in the town are clever. Sure, you can fire in your quarters and try to remember what time you have to get back to the car. Or, you can manage the entire process through an app. I’ve used the app for a while now, but on this occasion it led to an excellent customer experience. Why?

  • It was fast. I pulled up the app, punched in the four-digit code on my meter, confirmed which car I was parking (I had it pre-loaded), and accepted the price (including the 35 cent usage fee) which was billed to my registered credit card. I completed the transaction half way between the street one block away, where I’d parked the car and the school. It was a lot quicker than had I had to go in to a local store and grovel for quarters.
  • It provided a service. Ten minutes before my time expired, the app alerted me that my session would end soon. I had lost track of time and was grateful of being reminded.
  • It provided a valuable utility. Rather than having to run back to the car, I was able to extend my session on my phone. Yes, I paid another 35 cents for the privilege, but I was more than happy to do so.

Meanwhile, the town benefits too. There’s probably some form of monetary benefit — for example, if I remove my car before my time expires, there isn’t a way for me to transfer the excess time to another driver. For some percentage of the day, some meters will earn double time.

And, if they are using the data to its potential, there’s a lot to gain. They can tell which parts of town are busiest at what time of the day — potentially determining where to open up new parking areas, or changing parking rules to reduce the time that people can park in specific areas to allow for greater turnover.

But, listen, here come the privacy over-reactors! They don’t want the town knowing this and tracking that. But, I’m a huge believer that we’re generally willing to trade personal data for utility and value, and these smarter meters delver both. Who knows, in time they could even deliver more – it’s not hard to foresee a feature that highlights where there are meters that are (or should be as long as other drivers aren’t overstaying their welcome) available for drivers in search of a parking spot — after they’ve pulled over to safely look at their smartphone, of course.

Value and utility from a local Government? I’ll take it!



A novel approach to market intelligence: games and prizes, but not gamification

On a recent trip to Dublin, I met a cool startup, Upfront Analytics (UFA), which is creating a mobile game platform designed to deliver market intelligence. They’ve developed a really novel approach that reveals latent opinions of consumers and encourages honest answers to research questions. How? By creating a game platform which is free to play, but that gives real prizes to players. The games are designed in such a way to reward honest participation.

The company has launched a mobile (currently Android only) game platform “The Pryz Manor” which comprises several games and activity centers. The games are inspired by popular board or parlor games and similar in a way to popular mobile games like “words with friends” or “draw something”. Unlike those games, you don’t play with someone you know — when you select a game you are matched up against an anonymous competitor, which helps prevent people “gaming” the system. Most of each game is centered solely on fun for the players, but about 20% of each game is designed to gather market intelligence.

For example, one game — Name Dropper — requires players to guess words or phrases based on clues provided by another player, within a time limit. The player providing the clues uses words that are predefined, some of which carry the equivalent of time penalties. For example, if I was trying to get someone to guess the word Guinness, while I might think of it as “nectar of the Gods,” that phrase might not be available, and might not actually help someone else guess the word. So, I’d be more likely to choose words like “beer”, “black”, and “Irish” in the hopes that it would be more obvious to my team mate. You can bet that those words, if available, would eat in to the time that we’d have available.

The neat thing is that companies can use the game to see which attributes players select most often about their company, or about their competitors. To take a different example, if you gave the same attributes to different groups of players about Coke and Pepsi, or Target and Walmart, or British Airways and Emirates Airlines, the words players select to help the other person guess says much more than having people answer a survey question about “which of these attributes do you associated with brand x”. And, likewise, being able to track which words help people guess most quickly and most often (e.g. do people respond to Starbucks as “premium” or “expensive”) indicates perceived brand attributes that are far more real than survey answers.

Other games allow Upfront Analytics to help firms compare brands, products, and services; understand product combination affinities; estimate pricing tolerance; gauge market awareness; assess product sentiment; track and forecast trends; as well as ask traditional market research questions, while examining the data across a plethora of demographic or other segmented forms of data.

I’ve already started playing their games and I see immense potential. I’m hoping to partner with the UFA team to uncover consumer attitudes around topics relevant to consumer-oriented businesses — topics such as loyalty, preference, privacy, personal data, and brand trust. If you have ideas of what I should be digging in to, please email, tweet, or comment below. I’ll tag the findings with “UFA” for those of you that wish to follow along. Also, consider downloading it and playing yourself if you have an Android device.



Your competition isn’t who you think it is

Your customers enjoy greater and faster access to new products and services every day — from apps to wearable devices to co-created solutions. And you compete with all of them. Even if they don’t compete with you.

What do I mean? How we access information and interact with companies is changing. Consider:

  • One of my go-to weather apps is Dark Sky. It’s an algorithmic masterpiece that predicts the likelihood of rain in my exact location down to the minute. And most of the time it’s right.
  • I no longer look at my phone when it rings, or when I get a text message or reminder alert. I glance at my wrist [or rather the Pebble watch that’s on it] and decide whether I need to go to all the effort of reaching into my pocket to grab my phone.
  • I buy $2 and $3 products via Amazon Prime with a single click and get them shipped for free within a couple of days.

But you don’t compete with a weather app, a bluetooth watch, or even Amazon, right?

Well, you might not compete with them directly. But, I increasingly expect every company that I interact with to understand the context of where I am and provide me relevant information, just like Dark Sky. I expect my experience with products to make my life easier or better, the way my Pebble does. And, I want the convenience end cost effectiveness of buying even small items and having them shipped without the shipping costing more than the item I’m buying.

In other words, I increasingly expect you to deliver an experience that competes with Amazon, and Apple, and Disney, and USAA, and Zappos, and Jet Blue, and so on. It doesn’t matter whether you compete with these companies directly. They’ve raised the bar of what I, as a consumer and customer, expect. And if you can’t match those expectations, my impression of you has diminished and I’m more likely to consider one of your actual competitors than I was before.

If you’re not already, it’s time to start benchmarking yourself against the best-in-class, customer oriented business, not just against your traditional competitors.



The Emmy is not the story. Kevin Spacey (unknowingly) doles out customer experience advice

Emmy_statueThis morning, media outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the Hollywood Reporter to Mashable heralded Netflix’s “historic” victory at the Emmys, as the streaming service’s House Of Cards became the first web-only series to win a Primetime Emmy and thereby disrupt the traditional TV market in its backyard. The WSJ points out that “no broadcaster was nominated in the best-drama category for the second consecutive year, a sign of how much competition major networks face from basic cable channels, premium cable, and now Netflix.”

But, that’s only half the point. Just a month ago, House of Cards lead actor Kevin Spacey highlighted the changing industry in a much more profound and — and if you think in customer terms — relevant way during this summer’s MacTaggart lecture at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival.

He made an impassioned case in defense of talent and creative, arguing that it is critical to the long term health of the industry that talent is given equal footing with commerce, since each depends on the other. I’d strongly recommend watching it — it’s certainly interesting in relation to the motion picture ecosystem. But If you listen to it with an ear to the idea of customer experience rather than audience; if you substitute the subject of audience for customer, it’s an absolutely fascinating 47 minutes that you won’t want back.

Why? Spacey hits on:

  • Audience expectation. He points out that audiences want control, and that they evolve faster than companies. He says that smart companies will adapt, and marry new things together. And while “we can make no assumptions about what viewers want or how they want to experience things. We must observe, adapt, and try things to discover appetites we didn’t know were there.” Again, if you think of your customers rather than a TV viewing audience, we all have the same mandate. In Spacey’s words, “We need to be … innovative, and in some ways, we need to be better than the audience – we need to surprise, break boundaries, and take viewers to new places. We need to give them better and better quality.”
  • Product expectations and categorization. Spacey points out that the traditional TV, movie, and ‘show’ monikers are becoming increasingly meaningless; a point, hit on last night by Emmy host, Neil Harris Patrick, who pointed out to younger viewers, that TV is “the thing you watch on your phones.” While, in reference to binge viewing, Spacey points out that “When the story is good enough, people will watch something three times the length of an opera.” It feels familiar to when we’re asked how many times a company should contact their customer. When the content and offer is relevant, people will welcome your contact – they do things that are counter-intuitive in the old way of thinking.
  • Competition. Our media consumption habits have changed. We no longer live in the world of appointment viewing. The same is true for customers. If the notion of the customer funnel was ever true, it’s a lot less true today. If you don’t adapt to your customers, you’re leaving yourself wide open to competition and disruption. In media terms, Spacey encourages his audience to “recognize that new competition can’t be recognized right away – even when you’re forewarned.” He later adds that “yesterday’s labels are useless”. It’s just as true for marketing and customer engagement today.
  • Measurement. In a nod to Netflix’s willingness to take a risk with House of Cards, Spacey mentions data several times. He contrasted Netflix’s attitude “having run the data” to the traditional approach by the networks, relying on the upfront system to assess a show. In almost Moneyball terms, he claims that “Netflix did it right, and focused on the things that have replaced the dumb, raw numbers of the Nielsen world. They embraced targeted marketing and brand as a virtue higher than ratings. And, the audience has spoken.”
  • Leadership. Spacey was pretty scathing of traditional networks and their unwillingness to take risks. Having made his case for the marriage of content and commerce, he claimed that “The only thing we don’t know is why it is so difficult to find executives with the fortitude, the wisdom, and the balls to do it,” and “The challenge is, can we create an environment where executives who live in data and numbers are emboldened and empowered to support our mission.” In reference to those that have done it right (the BBC, Granada, United Artists, HBO, and Netflix, amongst others), he said that “crucially, those in positions of leadership at all these institutions also knew that these policies of supporting, nurturing, and protecting their creative communities was good for business. They found a way to make art and commerce come together and had the guts to fight for quality and for talent.”

As I said above, if you inset the notion of customer and customer experience in the above statements, there’s a ton of sage advice regarding the change required to compete in today’s customer-oriented economy. What’s holding you back?



It’s AboutTheData, stupid

About the dataToday (or yesterday by the time I post this), Acxiom released a beta version of a site/service they have called AboutTheData. It’s both a brilliant and relatively simple concept, but certainly the first of it’s kind in the marketing arena. Natasha Singer trailered the service in an article in Sunday’s NY Times. In short, it’s a portal that allows consumers to view some of the data that Acxiom compiles about them, to correct it if they wish to, or to opt out of its use for marketing purposes.

Acxiom bills the service in terms of relevance. The home page splash reads: “If you want to get the best advertising delivered to you, based on your actual interests, start here.” Once you identify yourself — using your name, date-of-birth, address, and last four digits of your social security number — Acxiom will then show you “the data used to fuel many of the marketing offers you receive” from Acxiom clients.

Acxiom divides the data they share into six categories of data: characteristic, home data, vehicle data, economic data, shopping data, household interests.

Here are my thoughts on the concept and execution so far:

  1. It’s an awesome concept. Acxiom gets first mover advantage and moral high(er) ground over its competition. As one of the largest data compilers in the country, this will likely force every competitor’s hand to follow suit.
  2. It’s a decent start. The information provided is by and large clear, mostly accurate — in my case, at least — and the user interface and ease-of-use was carefully designed — no mean feat for a company that has never tried to be a consumer brand.
  3. It shows immense courage. Acxiom provides people the opportunity to opt-out of having their data used by Acxiom and it’s clients. Yes, they explain that opting out will not prevent consumers from seeing ads, it’ll just mean that ads will be less relevant, but still, some consumers will opt out just because they are freaked out! And, to Acxiom’s credit, they don’t hide the opt out form in some dark corner — it’s prominent on every page of the site.
  4. There’s runway for improvement. To be fair, this is a day-old service that’s still in beta, but there are some real opportunities to take this in multiple directions. One area would be the opportunity to add information about yourself. If I really want these relevant messages, let me give you more information about me. Acxiom pegged me as living in a household with an interest in aerobics. While that’s certainly inaccurate, I do enjoy cycling, swimming, scuba diving, golf, kayaking, and a host of other activities that they haven’t tagged me with. Wouldn’t it create even more relevant advertising if I could somehow inform Acxiom of these things. How else do I expect it to improve? With regards to the length of time it takes for changes to take effect, Acxiom updates the information on the screen immediately, but point out that it takes 90 − 120 days for the changes to take place in all systems. While I applaud their honesty, I can’t help but lament the fact that consumers are giving this golden information that might not benefit them for 4 months!
  5. It’s open to backlash. When Acxiom introduced the newly refreshed Infobase-X a few years ago, they heralded the 1,600 elements of data in hundreds of categories. Assuming they still have the same depth and breadth of data, never mind if there’s more, Acxiom is only sharing a fraction of that data with consumers. If consumers start to wonder what else Acxiom knows about them, how much will they be willing to share? And, despite their desire to be pegged as the poster children of transparency, there’s still room for clarity. In explaining where they get their data, one of the sources is “general data from other commercial entities where consumers have been provided notice of how data about them will be used and offered a choice about whether or not to allow those uses.” OK then, that’s clear!

Overall, this is a laudable undertaking. Credit bureaus had to be mandated into providing an annual credit report to consumers for free, but they don’t give the level of detail that Acxiom is sharing voluntarily. Other vendors such as the likes of BlueKai have offered something along these lines for some time, but it’s anonymous data based on browser activity. It certainly doesn’t know who you are, validated with the last four digits of your social security number (one more potential area of backlash might be when consumers question how Acxiom knows the last four digits of their social).

I expect this initiative to have a significant ripple effect across the marketing and data ecosystem. How can you prepare?

  • Prepare to make the data that you have about your customers available to them. There’s no reason to believe that this will remain a data broker/compiler phenomenon. If I as a consumer can find out from Acxiom what they know about me, why wouldn’t I expect to find out the same from my bank, my favorite shopping destinations, my cellphone company, my insurance company, etc.
  • Think hard about the value that you deliver to customers. If you can’t explain it and describe it; yet you end up showing them all the data you have about them, prepare to lose access to it.
  • If you’re going to send people to your privacy policy as justification or explanation for the data that you capture and what you do with it, make sure it could be read and understood by an average person.
  • If you do go down this road and provide visibility into your data, treat customer access as an engagement. Use it as an opportunity to update other preferences — how often do they like to be contacted? In which media/channels? With what types of information?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get more interesting, the world of marketing data just experienced what might prove to be a tectonic shift. Buckle up and ride the ripples!



Customer focus isn’t that hard!

Since I wrote the other day about Apple, I had a bunch of emails and conversations that seemed like veiled attempts to defend Apple, disguised as a question. They went something like, “Why are you picking on Apple. Nobody does this well. Isn’t it really hard?” To which my answer is yes, it’s hard. It’s really hard. But, it’s not that hard that companies should get a pass. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to work for a company when you are stuck behind policies and procedures that prevent you from helping a customer. And, yet, most firms exist in this state.

And, it’s tempting to point to the Disney’s and USAA’s of the world that do this better than most. But, I found myself in these conversations referencing two much less well known examples.

Lisa Lindstrom, a board member of Avanza Bank in Sweeden presented at Forrester’s Customer Experience EMEA Forum last year and shared a story with the crowd about the Chairman of the bank who hosts a customer event every year, walks amongst the crowd greeting them and listening to their stories, and even gives out business cards with his personal cell phone number on it.

Then, last week at Neolane‘s customer conference in Boston, I saw a great presentation by Robb Barrett of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Robb was engaging and funny. But above all, he was empathetic. He mentioned that at every executive and board meeting, a “customer” or patient is invited to attend. Sometimes it’s a celebrity; sometimes it’s someone sitting in the lobby that gets invited on the fly. The board and the management team ask them questions, find out what it’s like to be a customer, and learn what they could do better.

Later at the bar, I spoke to Robb and he explained that this isn’t a lip service or feel-good initiative. He has seen the chairman of the board change policies with the customer right there in the room. For example, on learning that family members visiting patients hadn’t been able to eat late at night, he called the cafe manager to see if it could be kept open longer and made the decision there and then to do so. It might seem simple, but imagine these kinds of examples replicated multiple times a day, every day. And, not just by the Chairman, but by every employee.

Yes, in these cases it’s a senior executive asking the question and making the decision, but that’s kind of the point. If these actions aren’t taken at the top, how can firms ever expect them to happen lower in the ranks?

And, sure, Apple isn’t the only company that could do this better. Every company could. But, no matter where you sit in the organization, it starts with asking the question of customers. And, caring enough to do something with the answer.



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