Friday Jan 03, 2014

Is Brand Affinity Completely Worthless?

Social media is largely thought of as a brand affinity play, and far too few brand leaders know why that’s valuable.


empty pocketBe honest. Does it bother you when someone doesn’t like you? Even if you have plenty of other friends, when you encounter someone that openly doesn’t want to be around you, do you find yourself frequently wondering why not?


That’s how it often works in real life. But as brands, we not only are stunningly uncurious as to why people don’t like us or use us, we don’t even care how much our existing customers like us. It’s an unnatural way to behave, and at a time when we’re tasked with connecting naturally with consumers.


There seems to be doubt around the value of building those relationships. Either that, or because the fruits of those relationships won’t show up on the ledger this quarter, building them is deprioritized. And because social is the stage on which relationship building is performed, it too isn’t given the resourcing and executive support to max out the winning of hearts and minds.


Like the buying journey itself, brand affinity is the result of variable multiple brand encounters that combine toward a result unique to each customer. No magic ROI equation. But if there can be agreement that repeat customers, existing customers increasing their spending with the brand, loyal customers who look at our brand first or only, and customers who market for us for free, all have a positive effect on revenue…then we’re getting somewhere.


Seriously? You’re telling me you see no dollar value in your customers being as cult-like about your brand as Apple’s? Others sell similar products, but Apple markets a brand experience customers are emotionally invested in. It’s part of their customers’ very identity. So yes, they’ll buy every new product sight unseen and passionately praise and defend the brand. Apple doesn’t need gimmicks…they need crowd control.


Why aren’t we all Apples? Because we haven’t been investing in the combo of product, service and culture that generates the kind of core customers that drive 80% of profits. Fame is a group activity, but you’ve got to assemble the group. Perhaps brands that see no or only passing value in brand affinity have no sales or marketing system in place to even capitalize on being loved.


You view your product as the bee’s knees (you don’t literally sell bee knees do you?), but many brands have no significant value prop differences vs. competitors. Given that, the ability to bond the public to you is make or break. So how do you do it?


The USC Marshall School of Business determined brand affinity is achieved by enticing, enabling and enriching; meaning what you offer must be appealing, it must help the customer, and it must make the customer feel empowered and “better.” With tech listening tools, the public will show you how to do those three things for them.


Will that produce returns? A survey sought to learn which airline people thought was best. Alaska Airlines won. However…a very high percentage of respondents who voted for it had NEVER flown Alaska Airlines. They thought it was best just because enthused customers said it was.


Brand affinity is among the highest-return marketing you can do.


@mikestiles
Photo: David Playford, stock.xchng

Tuesday Dec 31, 2013

Should True Customer Centricity Be Your Resolution?

mannequinsWho doesn’t like to view themselves in the best light possible?  Similarly, many businesses like to think of themselves as being tops in customer centricity when in fact, they’ve taken zero steps to change structure, messaging, or CRM to that end. When the world around you is changing but you aren’t…red flag.


Many brands are offering up lip service in lieu of customer service. You know what’s going to be on those lips? The dust customers leave behind as they take their 2014 customer experience expectations elsewhere.


Today’s consumers are well aware of tech advancements. They know it’s possible for you to know nearly everything about them and every move they make, especially where it relates to your brand. Believe it or not, they’re cool with that, as long as it’s used to make their experiences quick, effective, and pleasing.


Seriously…all you have to do is not insult them.


When you have no clue what their past interactions with you were, you insult them. When you have no idea what products of yours they own, you insult them. When you can’t (or won’t) solve their problem, you insult them. When you throw them into an irrelevant generic voicemail tree, you insult them. When you ignore or forget what they tell you, you insult them. When you don’t follow up to insure satisfaction, you insult them.


As you can see, as easy as the task of “don’t insult the customer” sounds, the above is still largely standard practice. It’s not okay anymore.


Perhaps a business resolution for 2014 should be…to care. No shift toward customer centricity is going to occur unless and until brands start genuinely caring about getting the customer what they want and treating them well. Today, it should be even easier to care, because doing those things speaks to profits and corporate health.


66% of marketers couldn’t tell you what their customer is worth, even though sales could potentially go up 17% by knowing and capitalizing on the highest value customers. You’re best friend in this endeavor is data. Listening tools can pull copious amounts of social data, which can be combined with enterprise data for granular views of customers utilized at every touchpoint.


So what does customer centricity even mean? As opposed to what? It means morphing processes around making the customer successful in whatever they’re trying to do, both now and over time. This vs. being product-centric, which the odds are good you still are. One expert clarifies that if you’re product-centric, you’re trying to maximize the value of each product. If you’re customer-centric, you’re trying to maximize the value of each customer.


So in 2014, can you be available to customers on their favorite platform? Will you respond right away? Can you solve their problem? Can you convince them you care? Can you customize their experience? Can you make relevant offers? Can all departments make love-of-customer priority #1? Can you let customers lead your product development?


Social isn’t just empowering consumers, it’s empowering you as brands to make this customer centricity possible. Choose to keep focusing on your corporate self instead of on customer experiences, and 2014 could be the year of thin ice.


@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng


Tuesday Oct 08, 2013

Great Customer Service Quotes for the Social Enterprise

Service ChecklistDid you know that this is Customer Service Week? Whether it’s B2B or B2C, the focus is shifting to customer experience and customer-centricity; not just in marketing but across entire organizations as the reality sinks in happy customers are good for bottom lines. We’ve always known that but have been able to get away with not doing anything about it…until social came along and gave the public power.


So given that some of the most engaged tweets to come out of Oracle OpenWorld this year were quotes around good customer experiences, and since quotes tend to inspire further moves in that direction, we treat you to some of the best.


Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning –Bill Gates


Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them. –W. Edwards Deming


Business is a cobweb of human relationships –H. Ross Perot


Brands are facing a new competitive landscape in which self-definition, core values and purpose will increasingly define their ability to reach customers that only allow what is meaningful in their lives to pass through their filter –Simon Mainwaring


Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves. -Steve Jobs


By getting your customers to agree with you in small steps along the way, you have a better chance of reaching agreement when it’s time to do business –Harvey Mackay


Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners. –Jimmy Stewart


The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself –Peter Drucker


Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages. –Henry Ford


The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works. –Jeff Bezos


Well done is better than well said. -Benjamin Franklin


Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game. -Tony Allesandra


Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them. -Kevin Stirtz


There are no traffic jams along the extra mile. -Roger Staubach


One customer well taken care of could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising. -Jim Rohn


The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated. -William James


@mikestiles @oraclesocial
Photo: stock.xchng

Tuesday Sep 10, 2013

Are Your Customers Attacking or Helping You?

sour lookNow that we know consumers have been empowered thanks to social and mobile, we should probably consider how they’re going to use that power.  I believe it was Spider-Man’s uncle who taught us, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Will customers use it for good or to make trouble for you? The answer likely rests on how well you’re executing customer service and organizing around the customer experience.


On a September 19th free webinar, Oracle’s Erika Brookes sits down with “Attack of the Customers” author Paul Gillin for a chat about why critics assault brands online and how that can be avoided. It’s important. Because from Gillin’s perspective, most organizations are woefully behind both in shifting to customer-centric practices and in extending social across the enterprise to every customer touch point.


Why should these things be priorities? Survival is one good reason. Consider Gillin’s example of lean, finely textured beef, or as it became publicly branded, pink slime. The movement against it began on social. Because the industry took its cues from what was covered in the traditional media, they never saw it coming. Gillin says the largest maker almost went bankrupt, and the 2nd largest did go bankrupt within months.


Businesses can no longer afford not to listen to customers, wherever they may be congregating and talking about you. Jeff Bezos has called what’s going on “word of mouth on steroids.” And brands are not in control of these conversations, social users are. Bloggers are. Customers are. The best a brand can do is be where the conversations are happening and participate in them. Unhappy customers, who have experienced a bad product or abuse/neglect can and will find each other very quickly. Consequently, customer neglect as standard practice is becoming terminal.


And yet…58% of consumers have tweeted about a bad brand experience and never received a response of any kind. Mind you this is happening at a time when especially Millennials fully expect customer service on social. If they hold you accountable for it, thank them. People criticize because they want you to be better. It’s a positive. If you listen and co-create with those who care enough to “attack,” you’ll survive…and win.


Attack coverThese vocal, social consumers are forcing evolution inside organizations. Marketing is becoming analytics-driven, making it IT’s responsibility to align and facilitate. But here too, Gillin believes only about 2% of enterprises are appropriately socially enabled across departments. He feels most CIO’s still view social as a problem, a security threat, and a time waste.


For those who are forward thinking and who are willing to change and adapt as quickly as the consumer, integrated social insights from a social relationship management platform will lead to powerful, targeted engagements and actions, and thus, superior consumer experiences.


So, do you regard consumer criticism as an attack or an assist? Are your brand’s policies truly customer focused, or are they coming from a purely defensive posture? Tune in to the webinar to get Gillin’s four types of customer aggressors and how to deal with them, as well as three immediate customer experience action items for businesses both large and small.


@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Friday Jul 05, 2013

Customers Are Celebrating Their Independence

fireworksHere in America, we recently once again celebrated Independence Day. Amidst all the barbecue and fireworks, some took a moment to contemplate freedom, what it means, how precious it is, and how grateful we are for it. These days, your customers and prospects can do the same.

There was a time not so long ago consumers were not liberated. They had perceived choices, but not real choices. Brands often operated with outright contempt for them. Corporations granted themselves near-parental authority over them, punishing with fees or other penalties for “bad” behavior.

It didn’t matter if the product or service was lousy. Companies didn’t have to listen to complaints, much less do anything about them. No need to value the customer, their time or their patronage. If a brand lost some of them, who cared? It was “give us your money, and we’ll give you the least and worst we can get away with yet still stay in business.”

Not a pretty picture for the consumer; no power, no voice, no recourse. It’s jarring how many companies still try to operate the way they did before…the revolution. But there was indeed a revolution, one that gave the public their freedom from arrogance, hubris, and neglect. It empowered and connected them so that together, their voices and the force of their collective will could no longer be ignored.

Overdramatic? Maybe. But now that we’ve been living in the post-social era awhile, we tend to forget or take for granted that social media literally facilitated the fall of dictators and altered the course of world history. It’s still doing that today. So maybe it’s not overly dramatic at all to point out just how different the world is for consumers and brands now vs. before Facebook and Twitter.

Today, horrible products, horrible service, bad experiences, etc. get called out quite publicly. This happens almost instantaneously, while the consumer is enduring the bad experience (that’s when they’re most motivated to talk about it). This anti-PR is distributed in the blink of an eyelash to a vast, pre-built network of friends, and friends of friends. If you’re lucky, it’s only on one social platform, but it could just as easily go out on several.

Mobile, snowballing rapidly when it comes to digital and social usage, facilitates this even more. We spend 130 minutes a day with smartphones and tablets, and 84% of us can’t go one day without using our mobile. The customer is always on, always connected, always communicating, no matter where they go. You will not dodge a bad recommendation bullet if you deserve one.

The consumer is also now free from lack of information. 70% of consumers research online before buying in-store, after using about 10.4 sources of info to decide. Anytime, anywhere, from a variety of trusted sources, they can learn about you, a product you sell or the service you give. 82% of the 18-34 demo says friends’ posts directly influenced their purchase, and 53% recommend products with tweets. Your reputation is now everything. Everything.

Ironically, now that consumers are free, they’re willing to give you private data about themselves! But they no longer have to give something for nothing. In return, they expect better, more personalized user experiences and service. Tech listening tools give companies anticipation engines with which to know (and care) who the customer is and what they like. If you can use that data to teach the customer better personalized solutions, even better.

Social having turned the world on its head, now customers are the ones making sure you behave. They not only care that you’re conducting business the way they think you should, they even care about your corporate values. Companies with a culture and philosophy that resonates best with their target audience will win. Your customers are looking for honesty, transparency, and humanlike qualities.

But in this revolution, there are no losers. There’s plenty of reason for customer and brand to celebrate the public’s newfound power and independence. Corporations are being “encouraged” to be better at everything they do. Success now rests in the quality of the products, the attentiveness and care of the customer service at every touch point, and the well-earned trust of the customer…all things that, done right, result in additional longevity and prosperity that wouldn’t be there were it not for the empowered consumer.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Tuesday Jan 22, 2013

Social Customer Service: The CX Dream

sleepy catIn our last blog, we touched on the importance of listening and responding when social users reach out to the brand. Today, let’s go a bit deeper into just how much customers want to use social for this purpose, and bigger picture – how the right social customer service execution gets you significantly down the road toward the dream CX.

The days of “you’ll take what we give you” are over. Not only are customers empowered by social to amplify experiences both positive and negative to peers, they’re also empowered to set their own customer experience expectations.

No, you didn’t set those expectations, but it’s your task to address them. Failing to do so makes your dream CX more of a nightmare. When expectations are violated, the result is frustration, anger, resentment, and ill will. Also, friends are told the sad story of how the customer was “done wrong.”

Entire books have been written on CX. Thick ones. But as a loyal Social Spotlight reader, I’ll boil CX success down for you in two phrases.

EASY TO USE

DELIVERS THE DESIRED RESULT

Class dismissed.

That’s it. Nail those two things and you’ve built a dream CX. Unfortunately, as obvious as that sounds, organizations are quite tangled up and bogged down in their efforts to deliver it.

A recent infographic outlined how customers are connecting with brands and how they increasingly want to. The top 3 ways they’re connecting are quite traditional; phone (84%), email (80%) and company site (72%).

Though they’re traditional and have been around forever, the CX in these areas is often still a nightmare. Multi-level phone trees designed to keep you away from humans and that never seem to offer the option you need, automated form-response emails followed by radio silence, and site navigation resembling cluttered mazes even the most skilled lab rat couldn’t negotiate their way through in under a day.

Increasingly, customers are trying to get satisfaction through social and mobile. Why? Partly because the social networks instantly solve the “easy to use” dream. Customers are using platforms they already know, so on the customer-facing side, the social networks are doing half the brand’s CX job for them.

That leaves the other half, “delivers the desired result.” And that’s where bad traditional CX threatens to extend itself to bad social/mobile CX if not addressed.

The infographic tells us 56% of customers who connect with social feel a stronger connection to the brand, and 50% are more likely to buy from a brand they can contact with via social. There’s the opportunity customers are offering.

But…

-79% of smartphone users say they always or sometimes know more about the product/issue than the brand’s customer service rep (!)
-80% of smartphone users still haven’t been marketed to by their favorite brands via mobile (!!)

The socially enabled enterprise can pull social/mobile customer touch points into an overall CRM system so that integration with traditional customer service vehicles benefits and informs both, in every customer interaction. Inquiries can be easy for customers to make, and the answers they get back can be fast and usable.

They’ll think they’re living in a CX dream.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

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