Category Archives: communication

International Cycling Union: 3 EPIC Failures

This week the International Cycling Union stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles as a result of their investigation into his use of performance enhancing drugs.

While I am sure they feel quite good about their pursuit of “justice” allow me to point out the ways in which this is an epic, epic failure.

1. The failed their Purpose
Professional sports organizations are in the entertainment industry. They may indeed promote healthy exercise and provide competitive outlets for a small group of elite folks but at the very core of what they do they are there to entertain. Bicycle racing is a fringe sport at best, not nearly the following of the three biggies, football, baseball and basketball, not any where close to international sports like Soccer, not even approaching NASCAR in terms of popularity, mind-share, or revenue.

The biggest thing that has happened in the world of cycling in the last decade was Lance Armstrong. He put them on the map of sport. He brought them a larger audience. He added entertainment value beyond what they could have hoped.

And this is the thanks they give him.

When you fail at your purpose you risk becoming irrelevant.

2. They failed at Parity
Of course there is an argument that says we don’t want cheaters to win. That has been the argument that has fueled the pursuit of Armstrong even though he passed all the required drug tests when he was competing. So let me ask this:

What if they found out that EVERYONE in the races was taking performance enhancing drugs? Is it really cheating then?

In an article in the New York Times, Travis Tygart, chief exec of the US anti-doping agency said, there was still more to do to clean up cycling because there were “many more details of doping that are hidden, many more doping doctors, and corrupt team directors, and the omerta has not yet been fully broken.”

If that is the admitted case why aren’t they still looking at ALL the competitor’s blood samples? You can’t hide behind fairness and parity when you only go after a select few people. There are probably hundreds of competitors who will remain on the record as Tour finishers who cheated just as badly but didn’t win.

When you fail to adhere to your own trumpeted standards you risk becoming irrelevant.

3. They failed their Patrons
I may be alone in this but as a member of the viewing public I am not happily cheering for the pursuit of pushing doping out of cycling. I only got interested in it the entertainment value of the sport because of Lance’s pursuits. I don’t care that they’ve finally “proven” he used drugs.

They’ve lost me as a customer.

Not because of the scandal’s, not because of any supposed taint on fairness, but because they taken the guy who made them all the money and tossed him under the bus in some sort of holier-than-thou crusade. They’ve put the sport ahead of the consumer. They’ve tried to reconfigure their “product” right out there in the eyes of the viewing public and in my humble opinion they’ve screwed up the product as a result.

When you fail at understanding the customer you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

Simply put, for me as a customer, the world of professional cycling has become irrelevant once again. Lance brought them to my attention and I watched even after he finished competing but this latest round of circus performances has turned me off completely and I doubt they’ll get me back.

Where has you seen other businesses fall prey to these kinds of failures?

Customer Communications: Where to Start

How many time have you looked at the front page of a company web site and read something almost exactly like this:

The market leader in providing innovative solutions that transform businesses. Serving more than 67% of the fortune 500.

Drives me nuts.

Too often the starting point for customer communications start with the question, “What do we want to say?”

When you start there you suddenly find yourself with all kinds of due diligence facts, historical anecdotes, feature, functions and benefits…and so do all of your competitors. As a result everyone starts sounding very much the same.

The game changes though when you start from the position of asking, “What do we want the customer to do?”

Yes, it seems quite simple, particularly if you think the answer is, we want the customer to buy. But do you really just want them to buy? Aren’t you really MORE interested in them “succeeding”?

Typically we don’t just want customers, we want satisfied customers. So the answer to the question” what do we want them to do” is, “we want them to use our product or service to solve their problem.”

Of course in order to be able to start communicating from the perspective of solving the customers problem we have to now what the problem is and how your product or service solves it. THEN you have to let the customer know that you understand the problem.

So instead of:

  • We have
  • We are
  • We provide

You start with

  • You want
  • You need
  • You can

Try this experiment:

Take any of the communications you currently use to describe what you do and set them aside. Start the piece over with a description of the problem you solve. Next throw in a few lines about how your solution is unique in terms of what it does for the customer. You only get to talk about the problem and the unique solution, NOT your organization.

Now go look at your competitors communications and see if you don’t recognize how this approach starts to make you stand out.

When was the last time you saw a company talk more about you as a customer than they do about themselves?

 

AT&T, iPhone 5, and What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate

The stats were in a week or so ago…iPhone 5 set a bunch of records for pre-order volume.

As I mentioned here only a few short weeks prior to that my trusted iPhone 3gs went for a swim so I duly made my way to the AT&T store to leverage my upgrade discount and order my iPhone on “opening day”.

Of course, because I hadn’t called at midnight the night before or waited in line on the sidewalk I didn’t get in to order my phone until the afternoon. By that time I was told that orders being taken were expected to ship within two weeks, rather than the anticipated one week, but that I would be able to track my order status online.

The picture above is my actual order status. Notice anything? Somehow, in ten days, according to this, the is no difference in status from the moment when I was standing talking to the AT&T employee in the store to now. My order is processing.

I put this in the “failed customer self service” folder.

Order status checkers like this one are create tools to reduce call volume. The more customers who can see what is going on with their order the fewer will clog the phone lines with questions about shipping dates.

Unless of course you fail to update that status at all.

Not only does this produce more phone activity but it also sends a subtle message that either you’re hiding something or you don’t care all that much about the customer.

So why might a system like this show NO activity over ten days?

  • We’re slammed and the system is overloaded
  • We don’t know from the supplier when the items will be available
  • We now know it will take four weeks so we’re avoiding telling you
  • We didn’t create enough differentiate status levels in the system

In truth the reason doesn’t matter, the communication does. Even if “the system” posted a status that said “we’re backlogged and hope to clear the jam buy the following date” it would be more communication than “processing”. My order has been “processing” since I first said, “Hey, I’m here to order and iPhone 5.”!!

If you’re going to use a customer self service tool like a status checker you need to remember a couple key rules for success:

Rule 1: Keep the information up to date
Now to be fair the information on my status above may BE up to date. My order may not have moved at all. But you would think that it would have processed by now and just be awaiting inventory. But is does not appear to be up to date. By leaving it mostly blank the system has failed at its two primary purposes: reducing call volume and communicating status to the customer.

Rule 2: Communicate, even if it is bad news
It is far better to know that my order will be delayed than it is to keep guessing. By communicating even the bad news you communicate that you care about the customer. Trying to hide the bad news says you care more about your image than you do about your customer.

Rule 3: Think with a customer perspective
Too often these systems glitches become internal finger pointing or design arguments. If you failed to think like a customer during design think like one during the problem period. I wonder if anyone at AT&T is asking how customers feel about a dead order status?

Customer self service tools are great when they’re firing on all cylinders. When they’re not you need to react quickly, communicate effectively, and think like the customer.

What other types of “customer self service” tools have you run across and how effectively were they managed?

Bonus points if you know the movie that is referenced in the title of today’s post.  🙂

 

How Likely Are You to Recommend?

If you’ve purchased anything online lately, or even walked into  a store where you’ve had to interact with a sales person, odds are fairly high that  you’ve received the follow on questionnaire that asks:

“How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?”

It has become almost startling now as my iPhone receives that email with the survey attached before I even walk out of the store. It also seems to me that I am being asked this question more and more frequently.

Now, as a marketing guy I understand that… companies are trying to calculate their Net Promoter Score.  They really just want to know how well they’re doing.

Just briefly today I want to pose some questions that are worth considering when you start to think about using Net Promoter Score as a measure of how well your organization is serving your customers.

1. Is the answer to the question of whether someone will promote you or not reflective of your overall relationship or just the most recent transaction?

I have had great experiences with front desk people at hotels, airlines folks, cell phone sales people (and just as many bad ones) and my response to the question of whether I’ll promote or not is typically based on that most recent few minutes.

That means that in order to get an accurate picture of my relationship to any of those businesses they’d need to get me to answer that question after every significant transaction and calculate an average. I can guarantee you I won’t fill out the survey every time!

As a result it is important to remember that:
Timing and frequency are crucial to get right

2. Does a customer’s positive response mean that they’ll actually promote your organization?

Obviously that differs person to person and situation by situation but it cannot be assumed that “yes I WOULD promote” equates to “yes I WILL promote”.

Rather than asking the blanket “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?” it becomes more useful to suggest where and when you might recommend: “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend who is looking to book a vacation?”

Remember:
Providing context makes it easier for the customer who wants to promote you to recognize the opportunity to promote you.

3. How can you make it easier for your customers to promote you?

Asking the blanket question gets you a philosophical response, providing context makes it easier for the customer to consider action, but you’re still asking them to engage in creative effort.

  • Why not, instead, provide customers with a couple of options: “If you’re willing to promote us would you please like our page on facebook?” or “If you had a great experience with us today would you be willing to post the following tweet: etc. etc. etc.”

Remember:
The easier you make it for someone to promote you the more likely it is that they will.

Rather than just asking folks if they’d be willing to promote your organization provide them with the ways and means to do so and you’ll find you get much more mileage out of the practice of capturing net promoter information.

When was the last time you answered positively on a “will you recommend us” survey? How quickly did you actually recommend and what means did you employ?

Real Tolerance: Understanding vs. Conversion

A couple weeks ago I, while on a flight to Washington DC, found myself in conversation with a guy who makes documentaries for a living.

It started out as a chat about camera lenses and moved quickly into a discussion on his favorite topic, global warming. Something about the early bits of our talk must have put him at ease because he started to REALLY go off on the COMPLETE stupidity of conservatives. I told him I thought the trouble was that as a society we were becoming so polarized that it was becoming less and less possible to have rational dialogue.

He nodded in agreement then shared with stunned amazement the example of a friend of his from college, someone he had sheared life with, been in a band with, gotten drunk with who had become a university professor, adopted a conservative perspective and, in his words, become an idiot. When he finally cycled back to global warming I took a risk.

“You know”, I said, “I actually come from more of a conservative perspective myself. I don’t disagree with your evidence of ice caps melting or temperatures rising but what is missing for me is proof of causality. If it really the humans fault then we should see some correlation between temperature change and population growth coupled with industrialization. I just haven’t seen that piece.”

He launched…

Him: “Well, do you believe in science?”
Me: “Yeah, I was a science major in college. I believe in the scientific method and the repeatability of results, sure.”
Him: “No, I mean to you believe in evolution?”
Me: “No, I’m more of a creation guy.”
Him: “Pfft, so you think the earth was created in just seven days?!?”
Me: “Not necessarily, Genesis says, ‘there was morning and there was evening, the first day’, in Kansas that is 24 hours. In northern Alaska that is a year. I’m open to the idea that the Genesis days could be time periods and any length.”

I must have passed some sort of entrance exam at that point because he began to share his views on global warming in an animated but not antagonistic manner. When we got to the key point on human causality, after careful previous argument, decently justified statistics, and seemingly rational assessment of potential results, he said, “It has to be humans, there is no other answer.”

Really? That’s all you got? It HAS to be?

Of course I didn’t say that out loud. We finished the conversation amicably, even swapped contact information and went our separate ways as long flight seatmates seemingly always do.

So what just happened there, in my opinion, was a small example of a contrast of goals.

My goal in the conversation was understanding. I wanted to both clarify my position, (not all conservatives are stupid and we need to be able to dialogue), and understand his, (conservatives are stupid particularly when it comes to global warming). His goal in the conversation was conversion. He wanted to prove to an idiot conservative that they were wrong and he was right. In doing so he stereotyped me, made assumptions, and he ascribed motive. All included in the no-no list I posted last week.

As a result of that conversation a couple of truths about tolerance became newly clear to me:

1. True tolerance is about wide goals, not narrow goals.
As I said last week tolerance begins from a point of disagreement. Thus the widest goal under the heading of tolerance is understanding. But too often the conversation narrows to conversion, then narrows still further to debate when conversion seems to be failing. This is where the hate speech starts to come in to play.

2. True tolerance is about compromise, not all or nothing.
Too often cries for “tolerance” are really just masks for pushing forward a particular agenda. You can tell this by the narrowness of goals and the speed with which the conversation turns to claims of hatred. There will ALWAYS be points of disagreement. You can choose to focus the conversation there, narrow goal, or work to find points of compromised agreement, wide goal.

The recent hoopla between the LGBT community and chicken eating conservative Christians has highlighted the fact that these two camps hold COMPLETELY different view of life, the world, and everything. There are obviously, without doubt, narrowly focused sub groups on either side of the debate, but even in THIS instance there are points of tolerant compromise that can be found. We just need to be willing to find points of agreed upon compromise through tolerant dialogue.

What is it like when you find yourself in a truly tolerant dialogue?

 

 

 

Three Reasons to Understand the Customer Perspective

I received an email offer the other day that was attempting to persuade me towards an upgrade of a graphics software package I’ve used off and on for a couple years.

I went to the web site and discovered there were three different versions available: Basic, Advanced, and Pro. I could click on each of them, even compare them side by side, and in the end couldn’t decide which one I wanted based on anything other than price…so I bought nothing.

The trouble was that the descriptions of the packages were all written from a sales perspective, this or that attractive feature designed to entice me to buy. But when a feature is described in technical jargon, Dyspeptic Flabberhaven Interface, it sounds impressive but confusing. WHY do I need a DFI? Who knows.

A web site I have really come to appreciate and frequently use is CNET.com. CNET reviews products like cameras and laptops and home appliances but the bit I like best are the buying guides. The CNET buying guides aren’t there to help you compare Flabberhaven capability but to solve your problem.

You want to buy a digital camera? Cool. What do you want to do with it? Kids sport photography? Portraits? Landscapes? Start a business? The buying guides use a series of question to guide you toward the right model and feature set. In short, they take the customer perspective.

In my last post I suggested that the customer experience is guided by a couple of simple questions:

  • Should I explore?
  • Should I buy?
  • Should I promote?

So much of what you find on web sites these days is designed to drive right to that second question: Should I buy? Without providing anything other than a call out of feature and function to persuade a prospective buyer.

And if that seems to work why think about the customer perspective at all?

Reason #1: It says you understand the customer
As mentioned above the CNET buying guides are a great example of how to communicate an understanding of the customer. If I am looking for technology I go there first before I go to any retailer of manufacturer site BECAUSE those guides scream out…we know you.

If you can show that you know me as a customer it helps convince me that your product will meet my need.

Reason #2: It changes the way you present information
If you understand that there are a number of people coming to your web site or contacting you via phone or email that are exploring, looking to learn more about you as a possible solution to a need, you start to present information differently.

I love using churches as examples. Think of one major reason an non-attender would decide they want to go to church. Life Crisis? Return to childhood faith? Searching for meaning? Curiosity?

Go to most church web sites however and what you’ll find…well, you’ll find a mess if you look at enough of them…but what you’ll find it a list of features and functions. “We’re a welcoming community where you’ll feel right at home.” “We’re not like your parents church.” “Church for today’s generation.”

Understanding WHY people are exploring you changes the information you present. True for churches, true for purveyors of software.

Reason #3: It sets the foundation for customer loyalty
When a vendor shows from the outset that they care enough to help me explore them and assists me in buying by displaying an understanding of my need they communicate an expertise that drives me towards loyalty from my first interaction.

If you can show that you know as much about me as a perspective customer as you do about your product you build trust from the start.

This simple list doesn’t come close to uncovering all the changes in business process and strategy that a deep understanding of the customer perspective engenders but it is a good place to start. Which leads me to today’s question:

How well does your organization, business, newsletter, understand the perspective of your customers and if you understood that perspective more intimately what would you change?

Managing Customer Experience: Two Perspectives

There is quite a lot being said, and written, about Customer Experience Management these days and it can easily be overlooked as something that only applies to a small number of specific industries: retail, services, CPG etc.

The truth is that the thought process around managing customer experiences applies to just about ANY interaction between an organization and the people who use the goods or services of that organization.

  • Non-profits like to think of these people as donors of constituents, but they ARE customers.
  • Churches like to think of these people as members but they ARE customers.
  • Youth sports organizations like to think of these people as players but they ARE customers.

I think you get the idea.

When thinking about managing a customer experience it is important to remember that there are two distinct perspectives involved, each with their own set of drivers.

Perspective #1: Inside Looking Out
This is the easy one to think through because it is the perspective of the organization that has customers.

The inside looking out perspective is generally guided by four questions that drive ever deepening levels of engagement with customers. The answers to these questions help shape the experience from the inside looking out point of view:

  • What do we Know? (General customer demographic info)
  • What do we Do? (Segmentation and campaigns)
  • What do we Suggest? (Loyalty and engagement)
  • What do we Create? (The set of experiences that drive movement)

Obviously a lot more could be said here but these four question provide the framework for developing progressively more robust customer experiences.  Using one of our less obvious “industry” choices from above:

  • Churches first need to know who is attending, even basic name address and phone number helps, but learning more about their family is even better information: kids? ages? interests?
  • Then they need to target communication that is pertinent to the attender. You wouldn’t want to send a new visitor who is a 65 yr old retiree information about nursery services on Sunday morning.
  • Once they get to know the person and their family suggesting ways to get involved, ways to feel plugged in, that are specific to them becomes important in terms of creating stickiness.
  • Thinking through how you then keep the new family coming based on multiple anchor points is important. How many churches have had the discussion about having services for everything from pre-school through high school on the same night mid-week in order to create “family time”?

Perspective #2: Outside Looking In

This perspective is often the forgotten point of view. Customers are the one “having the experience” so it is crucial to remember they are looking at it through a different set of questions:

  • Should I Explore? (Deciding if they want to know more about you)
  • Should I Buy? (Deciding if they will buy)
  • Should I Promote? (Deciding if they’ll recommend you to friends)

How about a youth soccer program this time:

  • Parents know about clubs other than the ones their kids are involved in and have to make a decision about whether or not to explore a competitors policies, costs, teams, and coaches.
  • Once they becomes educated the next decision is whether or not to have their child play for that club.
  • If the experience is a good one they can become a significant recruiting source based on what they tell other parents.

I’ll write more about how to manage these two perspectives in days to come but for now it is important to remember that they both exist and they’re both driven by different sets of questions. Understanding how your customers move through their own questions is key to bringing these two perspectives into alignment.

What do you provide that helps your customers make their three decision to explore, buy, and promote?

Book Review: Platform by Michael Hyatt

I am, by my own admission, a bit of a bibliophile. I have shelves and shelves of books many of which I have read cover to cover multiple times.

THIS book, however, will not be amongst them.

… yet it essential that you own it.

Curious? Good.

 

  • If you have a message to get out to the masses
  • If you’re an artist with a passion for creative expression
  • If you’re a fledgling politician
  • If you’re a pastor, a speaker, or just someone with an opinion you want heard on a global scale

You need this book.

So, why my statement above?
Because this book isn’t a cover to cover read.
This book is a start-in-the-spot-you-need-most, find-the next-important-bit-and-apply-it book.

You’ll probably find much you agree with, some things you’ve tried, some bits you’ve failed at, and some concepts you never even considered.

Michael makes it easy to understand how to build the platform that will allow you to more easily and readily connect with your audience, even if you have no idea who or how many they are, where they exist, or how to get to them today.

Whether you’re starting from scratch, struggling to get your blog to the next level, or trying to work out how to take your already decently successful game into the big leagues this book is chock full of practical instruction on how to build a platform that attracts and keeps a loyal following.

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World gives you the keys to understanding how to think about creating a successful product, how to get the word out in a a focused, targeted manner, and how to create fans out of mere contacts.

You’ll learn how to effectively leverage social media to create visibility for your product, amplification for your message, and connection to your audience.

With all that being said this book won’t find a home amongst my shelves of well read favorites.

Instead it will find itself on my desk, oft consulted, dog eared, highlighted, spine bent and flipped through. This is NOT a book to read, digest, and set aside. This book is a day to day reference tool you’ll want to keep within easy reach.

Check back 6 months, maybe a year from now, and we’ll see how well I’ve been able to apply it.

If you have a message to share, a product or idea to promote, or an audience to reach this book will become indispensable. Don’t let another day go by without having this on your shelf.

(Of course, what good is an endorsement without a link?)

What message do you have that is burning to get out? What product, or work of artistic expression do you want to share with the world? What are you waiting for?

How Would You Rate THIS Customer Service?

I am currently in residence at The Ship in Weybridge, England where it is costs, with exchange rate, just under $250 per night.

This morning there was no water. None.

All the guests received the following:

Dear Guest,

Please accept our most sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused to you this morning by the lack of hot and cold water within the hotel.

Further to investigation it appears that the main external supply had been interrupted overnight, resulting in the storage tanks on the property running dry. This was resolved as soon as we were able;however it did take considerable time for the water tanks to refill and heat. Please rest assured that the system is now functioning normally again.

It is extremely unusual for The Ship to encounter an issue such as this, and I appreciate your understanding with the disruption experienced.

Should you require any assistance for the remainder of your stay with us, please do not hesitate to contact either myself or a member of my management team, who will be delighted to help in any way possible.

Kind Regards,
A. S. ( name omitted out of kindness)
General Manager

You make the call, customer service success or failure?

If you would like a hint look here.

Creating Customer Expecta…

 

What did you expect next? …tion? shun? xion? or some other form of finishing the word?

It’s interesting isn’t it how easy it is to create expectations. Whether good, bad or indifferent we’re creating expectations all the time. In our work, in our homes, with our co-workers, with our family expectations abound.

Think about every place you create expectations for your customers. Now think again. Does your tag line create expectations? Does your name? Does the graphical approach to your web site create a certain set of expected deliverables? The answer is yes, whether you realize it or not.

  • The truth is that customer expectations are being set, met or missed, and reset all the time. We’re constantly raising or lowering the bar. This up and down motion isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, if the bar stays put we’re invisible. So how do we take care to accurately set the expectations of people whom we’ve not yet met? By remembering to apply some simple guidelines:

1. Entice but don’t Exaggerate
So often titles and tagline are built purely to entice customers to come take a look behind the curtain and too often the”surprise” behind the curtain is an epic failure.

A friend on Facebook recently had a video posted in their status entitle something akin too: “Failed Surprise Attack”. I click off to video land to watch the supposedly failed sneak attack only to find nothing sneaky OR attacky about it. Multiple multiple people had commented that there was nothing worth watching in the video, it turned out to be a couple body builders flexing in the mirror.

I was so frustrated by the stupidity of it that I now am questioning whether I’ll look at anything that friend has in their status line ever again and I even went so far as to delete the view from my own status in hopes the same judgment would not be cast upon me.

The failed expectation resulted in negative results because the enticement turned out to be a gross exaggeration.

2. Remember the Reset
Don’t forget that every time you meet, exceed, or fail to meet expectations you’re resetting the bar. Meeting expectations raises confidence levels in further ability to meet them, exceeding expectations sets a higher standard, failing to meet them my result in a loss of opportunity to have another shot.

I recently had what I thought was a horrid rental experience with Thrifty Car Rental. My expectation was a fee of about $42.50 through priceline. My bill upon checking out the car showed charges closer to $150. I figured they had switched cars on me, pre-charged for gas, not3. O honored my agreed price and several other nasties but just left because I was in a hurry. I vowed they’d never agin get my business.

When I returned the car the guy at the check-in window explained all the rigamarole to me and showed how my final bill went back down to $42.50, exceeding my lowered expectations and perhaps winning back at least a chance to get back my business.

3. Oopsies  are Opportunities
We’ll all fail to meet expectations from time to time. Rather than seeing this as a failure see it as an opportunity to become something more than invisible.

I posted recently about a customer service experience with Mike’s Camera. Lo and behold who should reach out to me but Mike. Now, to be clear, I wrote that they had failed at meeting my expectations but had done just enough to make it up to not lose me as a customer.

Mike wasn’t satisfied with just enough though. Mike reached out and offered to make it MORE right on my next rental. An offer which I will no doubt take him up on the next time I need to rent a lens. Mike get’s it. He saw the oops as an opportunity.

In every case communication is the key but remembering these guidelines can help you set and manage expectations in a more reasonable and controllable fashion resulting in winning, and keeping, more customers.

What expectations do you think you set with customers or business associates?