Avoid turning sweetspots into sore points

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Customer Ecology 101

In the world of customer experience optimization, there seems to be a very dull experience that strikes a very sharp chord with consumers. You call a care rep to solve a problem. It’s a natural instinct;

we want to be able to communicate with someone when there is an issue that needs to be resolved.

  Doug416 reviewed Bank of America 1 out of 5 marks
Published on: mybanktracker.com, Feb 22nd 2012

Yet, in the midst of the conversation, you receive a cross-sell pitch. In fact, personal experience prompted this professional tweet during the Jan 30th Twitter chat of colleagues in customer experience optimization (#cxo, Mondays, Noon EST). There were enough RT’s (retweets) and replies to call for a blog post to examine this point of #customerecology. Here’s the takeaway:

There are four compelling reasons not to cross-sell in the midst of a customer’s crisis. It may not be a crisis to the enterprise, but to a customer it is.

1. Stressed brains freeze short-term memory.

This stress mode is distinctly different from positive-minded brains that are sweet to the endorphins. In fact, when reporting negative information, we can provide more detail. Noted brain researcher Robert M. Sapolsky has published significantly on the impact of chronic stress on memory – short-term memory, in particular.

Not only does a positive message get lost, it gets stored in a negative brain space. Also consider behavioral scientist Pavlov and his conditioned stimuli and response.  It’s hard to recall one without the other. Cognitive science confirms this linguistic-educational-psychological connection.

2. Cross-selling to stress is dismissive.

Distraction is an obvious technique for changing the subject and taking control of a conversation. Who hasn’t seen or been a parent using distraction to get the attention of a child in the throes of a tantrum. Yet, as an adult consumer who has initiated a call to a care center, the cross-sell often sounds like distraction, and so a form of assault or power-control. Cognitive science is rich in this area.

3. Care reps care; sales reps sell.

Using a the Gallup Strengths-Finder model, care reps are not adept sellers. The required engagement skills are reactive, not proactive. Highly-skilled problem solvers, their emotional intelligence lies in crisis management. Despite instruction and intention, the cross-sell message can sound exactly what it is, a message from a script. Here’s an example from mybanktracker.com:


Since the banking failures, when I now go into BofA, they are annoyingly pleasant — totally phony, to the point where I just use the ATM.

CustomerCliff reviewed Bank of America 2 out of 5 marks
Published on mybanktracker.com Feb 27th 2012

4. Savvy consumers know better.

The distrust of consumers to large enterprises may be at an all-time high. Online Shoppers Are Rooting for the Little Guy -NYTimes.com Authors Stephanie Clifford and Clair Cain Miller examine how growing consumer wariness of e-commerce megaliths and feature thriving mom-and-pop, main street enterprises. The authors quote:

A large number of Americans have a general suspicion of bigness in the economic world —they equate bigness with power, monopoly.

—Michael Walden Professor Regional Economics North Carolina State University

Alternative: Solve now, cross-sell later.

If time-outs work for child care, they can work for your customer care enterprise. The two-step process may well be worth the cost. Following up at a later date (even within 24 hours) can provide just enough time to:

  1. Confirm that the problem was fully solved
  2. Avert any secondary problems that may have come up
  3. Confirm the quality of the conversation with a rep.

Kudos to computer and ISP care reps in this area. As a routine, these unnamed, unseen techies take control of a customers computer screen to solve a problem.  It’s the most obviously example of when not to pitch or cross-sell.

Instead, a post-care note frequently follows up a service session within 12 to 24 hours. In one form or another, the message reaches out to the customer, seeking to confirm (or not):

  1. a positive outcome to the session
  2. a positive experience during the session
  3. a professional demeanor on the part of the representative.

Apply caution in the age of empowered wariness

Empowered wariness is the attitude held by even the most loyal consumers these days. That’s why it’s essential to think twice about cross-selling during a sensitive, problem-based touchpoint.  Don’t risk turning sweetspots into sore points.

What is your management experience?

Post your comments here, bookmark this article, and share with a colleague.

  • Are there customers resistant to outbound, intentional cross-selling?
  • If so, has your organization been successful in reducing or eliminating resistance?

Best, E.

How many ways did Superbowl XLVI ads engage you?

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Ferris Bueller Meets William Shakespeare (kinda) describes the dragonfly effect — with a twist.  It uses found objects to create movement for the Honda brand. Found objects take anything your viewers will already know and to force a leap to a new message.  The engagement can happens in any of six ways. The tighter the connection, the better the viewing experience.

While the poll was designed for Honda’s  Superbowl ad, you can certainly respond based on any ad you watched.

What’s the outcome in terms of ad sales and viewership. That remains to be seen. After you take the poll, sign and and share your comments below.

Why we need UN-size empowerment now!



Thoughts on empowerment:

Via: UN Women to focus on boosting economic empowerment and political roles (UN News Centre, February 2, 2012)

Empowerment: Kenya by Cat Bovis

Images of Empowerment: Kasigau, Kenya by Cat Bovis

Empowerment has found its way into thought leadership circles as a somewhat elegant topic to describe the next level of branding, loyalty, and customer relationships.

Here’s a nitty gritty of where and how empowerment began – at the UN. And with whom – women in their buying, voting, and governing. The UN Women initiative, now in its second year, reasserts the need to continue empowering women in all their roles. At its core, it is the key to regaining a global healthy economy.

Photo Image: Images of Empowerment, via Facebook, posted by www.aiesecmelbourne.org

The Protester -Time Person of the Year 2011

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The Protestor and The Consumer have more in common than any would have expected in the innocent world of Web 1. If TIME, Inc. is willing to honor the unnamed, collective protestor, then the consumer is equally the ultimate driver in every aspect of commerce, enterprise and loyalty. Have organizations woken up? To their role, impact, and potential. Customer ecology is not a simple method or tactic, but a necessity going forward.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

protester, posted with vodpod

Prevent a crash-and-burn brand in 3 easy steps (1 of 3)

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Your brand doesn’t have to crash and burn!

My tweet response to #brandchat Q4 (11.2.2011) struck a chord with many participants. Retweeted twice, it reached an audience of nearly 10,000 viewers (crowdbooster.com). When brands and industries are doing abrupt turnarounds in the wake of customer dissent, it’s enough to merit a deeper dive into my simple method to avert a crash-and-burn brand experience in the first place.

1. Stoke the fires of warm customer relations

Now with online resources, enterprises can and do monitor sentiment to the brand in particular and to the product category or industry as a whole. Loyal customers become great influencers and your best brand evangelists. Angry customers are often willing to weather brand storms when the organizations are willing to step up, be honest, and continue to engage customers.

Here are two examples of customer relations in the digital age.

Hit: Macy’s Inc. (NYSE:M)

macy's window photo

Macy's Fans Join the Parade

If you’ve read about consumers pushing back against the creeping holiday season, it doesn’t seem to have affected Macy’s , one of the brands that helped to create Christmas shopping as we know it.

So how do you outdo the parade that ends when the big guy arrives on a sleigh? Get ahead of it! Macy’s has done a 180 with holiday windows. A holiday store window now has a Webcam that snaps photos of visitors. Pictures are posted to a special Macy’s Facebook Page Fan

Branding is all about storytelling.

That’s a powerful combination of aspirations and memories enmeshed in a brand. This young woman’s holiday shopping story (see photo) takes the form of a branded customer experience. The shift is so subtle it’s hard to know where the aspiration begins and who’s in charge. For brand evangelists and influencers, it doesn’t matter. Loyalty and engagement say it all.

Storytelling is an experience.

Best of all, Macy’s has made the customer experience “gameful.” The world’s largest retailer changed shopper behaviors to achieve a higher goal — word-of-mouth community building and traffic to the Macy’s Facebook site.

  1. People turn away from their view of Journal Square (for a moment).
  2. Turn to the famous holiday windows at Macy’s
  3. Find the Webcam and interact.
  4. Become part of the parade, not parade goers or idle TV viewers.
  5. Log on to the Facebook site and become part of a new parade.
  6. Drive traffic to the Facebook site by sharing their story with friends.

According to marketwatch.com Macy’s sales rose in 2011, while the 4th quarter was open. It will be interesting to see how the story plays out on the business pages.

Miss: KLOUT (private)

Image representing Klout as depicted in CrunchBase

KLOUT, the influence measurement company, launched its new ranking algorithm using a one-to-all news vs. marketing model. A non-customized message to all registered users emphasized the minimal impact on a user’s score. Reality was far different.

Before the change, Klout beta users laughed and tweeted to the quirks that included praises for influence on the subject “cucumbers” (author’s experience). Expectations were of a people-oriented process. That quickly evaporated. Klout’s organizational behaviors demonstrated more consideration of its algorithm than customer sentiments.

Only when the new Klout went live (new algorithm, same dashboard) did the new model become clear: It was entirely game-based. Quantity — not quality — was key. No problem, except:

  1. Expectations were set high and not delivered to.
  2. Verified Klout account holders saw the “value” of their badges (the currency of gaming) lose value.
  3. Klout maintained a staunch silence, communicating only with one newspaper days later.

A groundswell of community resentment took hold. Angry hashtags appeared. Citizen bloggers revolted while social networkers and major media joined in. Finally, Klout relented, providing delete options to both the subscribed (account and public data) and non-subscribed (public data).

Klout emphasized conformity to the game’s regulations not branded relations with living, breathing customers. This weak customer experience has significantly weakened the brand based on current press coverage and social media posts.

Next up: Step 2 – Put out fires promptly (Tuesday, November 29)

How Neiman Marcus creates shopping bliss

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Yes, January 2012.

Neiman Marcus  (NM) flagship retailer of  Neiman Marcus Group is synonymous with shopping bliss. Serving the 2%, the luxury retailer is also a retail innovator, creating the first customer loyalty program reports Barbara Farfan. They will go to every length and media to cultivate their best customer relationships, even Twitter.

But it’s already November 16th (as of this writing), and if you’re a retailer who dominates the shopping market and holiday season, you’ve got to do more — out of loyalty, customer experience, and branding. So no surprise to see in my Twitter stream.

Neiman Marcus tweet of resort shopping

Move over, Christmas!

The brand association and experience of this beyond-luxury retailer are synonymous with Holiday shopping excess. But then again, NM knows their market, the 2%.

100th Anniversary Edition Christmas catalog 2007

Christmas in September

So what’s the blissful ignorance? Neiman Marcus doesn’t need to advertise holiday shopping. Not in the traditional sense, of course. Their classic catalog is their biggest holiday brand ambassador. That and dedication to customer service.

NM’s yachters outdistance Santa’s reindeers.

Other retailers launched the 2011 Holiday shopping season within seconds of midnight Halloween 2011. Neiman Marcus has launched its resort collection shopping season with seemingly blissful ignorance of Holiday shopping noise and clutter — at least on Twitter.  Look again, there’s more to the bliss than you might expect.

If you’re a Neiman Marcus customer, you expect events or announcements like resort season in mid-November. The real news is in the payment method. Neiman Marcus has democratized its payment methods to accept Visa® and MasterCard®.

Creative customer ecology: Neiman Marcus sponsored Tweet.

Creative Customer Ecology_Engagement
Engage: +E for reaching out to their intended audience.

Enhance: +E for providing a complete, branded call to action.

Empower: +E by clearly capturing their 2% market within the blue ocean of average tweeters.

So why the #fail #brandchat?

Within its own customer environment, NM clearly knows how to cultivate relationships that cultivate the brand. The backlash may come in the push by marketers to move shopping seasons significantly ahead of the living season. What’s bad for one, i.e., retailer, could prove bad for all. Even when you’re catering to the 2% who now shop and buy with generic credit cards.

Is it all about the shareholder?

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Coin Toss of Shareholders or Customers

Shareholder or Customer Value wins the toss?

Is the shareholder the only one with value?

Yes and no. The measure is easier to capture and record. It also relates directly to the financial pages read by CEOs and reported annually. Values of customers and readership, meanwhile, get reported to audit bureaus, and distributed to media buyers.

But first, let’s consider the slow buy-in to applying shareholder value methods along with the solution outlined by esteemed Professor Alfred Rappaport, Leonard Spacek Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management.  In Doing the Right Thing and Self-Interest – Alfred Rappaport – Harvard Business Review (10.25.11), he explores the ethos of shareholder value. By focusing on long-term numbers and measuring success as shareholder value (SV), CEOs of public companies have much to gain and retain. Prof. Rappaport notes how its adoption has been slow following its introduction in the mid 1980s. He observes that despite its potential,  adoption of  SV practices can be stymied by entrenched organizational behaviors. In essence, the resistance has been, “What’s in it for me”? He suggests a simple incentive:  “enlightened self-interest.”

Saving Capitalism from Short-Termism: How to Build Long-Term Value and Take Back Our Financial Future , the professor’s new book, explores this topic in depth. Now on to the other side of the coin.

What about customer value?

All of which comes back to the question of customer value or LTV. Can an enterprise truly mention one or manage for one and not the other? Of course not, yet the attention and concern are not often equal at the C-level.

For global enterprises measuring customer value can be even more difficult. There are often many different pools of customers, communities, and relationships. Yet, managing customer values as rigorously as shareholder value or other capital asset is key to long-term vitality.  Zappos shoes are one example. Without strong customer value, there would have been no sale to amazon.com and the rest would be e-commerce history.

What are your thoughts? Please rank customer value, brand value, and shareholder value. Which should be the domain of the c-suite?

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