When I wrote the margin of utility a few weeks ago, that was only one of a series of posts that I want to present to y'all on "how to engage customers." I think, regardless of what we want to call it, we're all in agreement that since customers are now different - are now social customers - or at least a significant and increasing percentage of the population is - that we have to develop customer engagement strategies in business that help figure out how to collaborate with customers in ways that can provide value to all parties involved.
In order to do that, given that we are at a fairly early stage, there are two pieces that I'm going to concern myself with and hope that you'll work with me on. First, the hardcore how - what are the things that we have to do - the best practices, the processes, the tools, the kinds of strategy, the frameworks, the business models, the methodologies, that can be sculpted so that there will be successful repeatable, but customizable, approaches that businesses can use to engage those customers.
Second, what are the issues of social psychology, of cultural anthropology that give us insight into the way the social customer thinks and lives? What are the foundations of the science of business that we're attempting to realize with Social CRM? How do these insights translated into a well designed strategy for a single company to enhance their ability to create advocates, not just to engage customers for engagement's sake?
Why do we need that?
Traditional CRM has a wide body of practice and highly directed knowledge that has suited the CRM practitioners well so that the dismal failure rates of its early years are now gone and success as a whole or in part is more often than not an outcome for those implementing it. Even though there are plenty of detractors of CRM to this day regardless, it is a $13 billion industry (or so). I have a hard time thinking that businesses are so stupid that they would throw that kind of money after something that consistently fails. They spend those enormous sums of money not just because of the promise of success but also there is a sufficiently proven track record to make it worth the risk.
But since the social customer is in much more command of his or her own fate than in the past - social CRM calls for something considerably more right brained than traditional CRM itself did. It calls for insight into how customers a.k.a. human beings think and how they socially interact and what the importance of those social interactions is in a particular setting i.e. in the case of Social CRM, a business environment.
Which leads me to the nature and purpose of this particular blog entry. This is one of those "science of business" type entries. You decide whether its quack or good.
Competing in The Markets
Much of how we as customers think or we as business people trying to know our customers, act, is based on the expectations we have of some sort of outcome of an interaction or of a series of them. Or, for that matter, expectations built on the memories of interactions past. Its why we always talk of first impressions being so important. Those are the powerful as the memories of the results of prior interactions and, most importantly, how we felt about it. In fact, sometimes the feeling is more granular than the accuracy of the memory. Think about those moments in life when you remember how you felt, but not all the details of the actual event that caused it.
Those expectations come right up against something else that can drive business people wild every day.
What came to mind when I said competition? Weeeee-ll, I would guess that if you were a technology vendor, then another technology vendor or group of them came to the forefront. If you were Tide detergent, Cheer might have come to mind. Maybe if you were IBM, Hewlett Packard came jumped out front. Or something else.
But the reality is, while this is certainly some of the competition that you have to deal with, its no longer the bulk of it. There are two other competitive areas that you have to figure on that might be even more devastating, if you don't solve them - and if you do, incredibly rewarding.
First, Competition for Attention
Think of these numbers. There are 3,000 institutional messages a day blasting each and every one of us - this means 1 million per year. They can be TV commercials, snail mail advertising, a flyer stuck in your door, a banner ad on the web, spam in your inbox, or an email that isn't spam but still a message. It can be a video, mp3 file or a text message. It can come via any communication channel you can imagine. The important question is, how many of these do you as a consumer actually read or listen to?
Here's a test question.
Everyone reading this gets snail mail, oui? Thought so. How many of the snail mail ads which you get every day I imagine, do you even open, much less read. I would venture to say less than 10% of it - and many of you 0%. It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with the ads and I would also venture to say some of the ads are on subjects of interest to you, but you're so assaulted by messages each and every day, that you get brain freeze when it comes to even thinking about another way - and its just soooo satisfying to either throw out the ad or if you're concerned with identity theft, shred it; or you are eco-friendly, recycle it. That's why competition for attention is every bit as much a problem as companies that produce what you produce.
But there is another competition, every bit as difficult to deal with and maybe even more so.
Competing Against -- Yourself
If you read the headline, you're probably thinking one of several things right now:
- Wow. That's deep.
- Is this dude smoking crack?
- What'd you say? I zoned out at the title - the post title.
- Any other of a myriad of thoughts related to "why in f-'s name should I care at all? and What does that even mean?
Example 1: The Ritz Carleton
Let me 'splain.
Competing against yourself is simply competing against the expectations that your customers have about you because of the quality of your service, the content of your messages, the approach you have, etc.
One of the best ways to understand that is to think about one of the most often quoted mission statements in the world. Think of what the Ritz Carleton promises: "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." That has enormous implications for their customers because it sets expectations at a very high level. That means when a customer goes to a Ritz Carleton property, they have an image of what they think being treated like a lady or a gentleman is and what a lady or a gentleman should act like. So they expect service that meets those expectations. But it goes much further. They are expecting an ambiance that fulfills that -- and if you look at any Ritz Carleton property, I would say "elegant" and "stately" are pretty good descriptive terms. But it also sets another standard that goes beyond just the mere expectation. It sets a precedent before it happens (in a metaphorical sense of course) that all Ritz Carleton properties will meet these standards time after time, day after day, moment after moment. A slip up becomes a much more disappointing event than if the high standard wasn't there. It also forces a business at that level to re-examine themselves constantly to meet that standard.
For example, at one point, the Ritz Carleton mandated that every employee punctuate every interaction with a customer with the phrase "my pleasure." But that's all it was - a phrase that was, they thought something that propagated that elegance. But, customer feedback told them that the customers found it annoying because all interactions didn't need to end with that. While consistent, it was robotic and undermined the expectation of elegance and courtly behavior, rather than supported it. To the credit and intelligence of the Ritz Carleton, that's nothing but an artifact now.
Who is the Ritz Carleton competing against? It can be argued certainly that they are battling other luxury hotel chains like the Taj. But they are also competing against their own standard of excellence - which forces them to consider even the language that their staff uses that they mandated as a problem because of the expectations they set for their potential customers.
Example 2: Target
Target has spent tens of millions of dollar over the past 7-8 years remodeling its image. From a competitor on the low end with K-Mart, to something that they have been trying to rebrand as "inexpensive", "upscale", "cool", "younger", they have worked hard on doing what they have to do to change their ancient image. They've certainly waged TV commercial war with a long history of quirky, charming, musical, colorful commercials that emphasized their variety, upscale products - all for a younger market. The newer commercials emphasize the young moms and their kids and what they can do for the kids or a similar approach to a different segment. They have introduced high end brands with cheaper editions - a set of Riedel glasses - 4 for $34.99 for example (my favorites by the way). If you've never been to Target and just followed their rebranded ads on TV and in newspapers - you'd be impressed with the hipness of it all - and, if you like that sort of thing - you'd go there. But walk into a large sampling of Targets - and while you find the brands that they claim - you find them in ugly, often dirty, stores, with products in disarray on the shelves and staff that are not mean or anything, but, lets just say are not represented well by the commercials. Maybe better by Kristin Wiig on SNL, though.
I have nothing against Target. They are trying. But the gap between the expectation fueled by their ad campaigns and the quality of their stores is exceptionally damaging.
So What Do You Do?
Some of this may be "duh" levels of obvious but I'm going to lay it out anyway.
- Don't Promise What You Can't Do - That means that if you are developing your customer engagement strategy, make sure that the experience that you're trying to provide the customer with, dovetails with what you promise them. For example, if you're a high volume retail store, don't promise a boutique one-on-one experience at the store. This was the message of one of my clients several years ago. I did a calculation which indicated that if they were insistent on providing a one on one experience, they'd have to hire 4000 more employees to meet the requirement. That stopped that. We retooled the thinking and the mission to a "great store experience." I presume the difference between that and one on one service is obvious. Translating this into this particular post-speak - manage the expectations of your customers That part is still up to you regardless of customer control of the conversation.
- Make Sure The Ordinary Stays Ordinary - One of the most important aspects of managing expectations is not, as you might surmise, providing the most delightful customer experience, but is instead, making sure that the expected norm stays the expected norm. That means that if I'm making an ordinary inquiry to customer service - not complaining (the bulk of calls to customer service are inquiries, not complaints) that I expect to get it answered easily and in a reasonable time. I don't expect fireworks and kitten fuzzy feelings. I just expect that it will get done with the utmost utility. That means, for example, that the IVR menus that I don't like, will still route me to the right department. It might mean, though this is one frequently found failure of the ordinary, that, if I enter my customer number in once, I don't get asked for it again. I just get the answer (though in this case, its wishful thinking) I'm seeking and go my merry way. The ordinary which I as a customer expect to stay that way, does. A crash and burn here is far worse for a company than a "not all that delightful" experience that I expected to be delightful.
- Keep the Experience Consistent - While you often hear me say that in marketing authenticity trumps consistency", when it comes to customer experience consistency is everything. But let me distinguish between a bland uniform consistency and consistency based on expectation. If my expectation is that the online experience I am going to have with your business is one thing which I like and on the other hand the in person experience is also likable but different, then I would expect a consistency of my experience based on my expectation. That's a good thing. Tricky but a good thing. Its tricky because what customer A and customer B expect from their respective online and in person experiences might be polar opposites. How do you deal with that? That's not the subject of this post but it is something that can be reckoned with . More germane here, make sure the experience meets the expectations of the customer accordingly. Remember the Target stores. Big FAIL there. Didn't meet the consistency standard - expectations that, in their case, were created by them due to their rebranding.