I recently started a new job. I work for a fairly well-known satellite technology company. Part of my job is customer retention. As much as I’ve looked forward to this aspect of my new position, I’m also a little bit nervous. My company does a great job with marketing, but can make some improvements in the area of Customer Obsession.
I realize that it’s going to take a methodical approach to turn everyone’s thinking back to the customer. We get very wrapped up in developing a great product, in fixing issues as soon as we know about them, and even in improving the customer experience. But as a company, it seems like sometimes we fall down on keeping the customer in mind when we make decisions.
So here’s my plan. The first thing I need to do is to get buy-in from the top. Why? Because without C-suite support, I don’t stand a chance. The way I’ve started this mission is by mentioning the term Customer Obsession at every opportunity. I want to be known as the customer czar. I’m not in Customer Service, but as a marketer, I know that the whole company needs to start thinking like a customer advocate. I make sure to talk about the customer all the time, but especially when I’m in meetings with the senior folks.
Secondly, I need to get buy-in from everyone else. I want everyone to think this way. Last week there was an email conversation about some of the emails we send to our customers. They are, without exception, ‘no-reply’ emails. I asked why this was so and was told that we don’t have the resources to field random customer service-oriented questions. I have raised the question: Why do we want to make it hard for our customers to reach us? If we give them a great customer experience, maybe they’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends…and well, you get the idea. So I’m trying to change that. If we email a customer, they need to be able to email us back if they have a question.
The third thing I need to do is work with the social media team. Social media is a customer service function at my company, because they are primarily dealing with customer service issues. And that’s okay, I can work with that. I hope to make those social media folks into the best customer advocates that we have. If I can do that, it means that it will spill over into other areas of customer service, and that means that the folks that talk to our customers the most will be better problem solvers, working with the customer’s best interest in mind.
And so it begins. I’ve had three people already come to me and say they support my efforts 100%. That’s three more than I had yesterday. This is just the start. I’ll post as time goes on to let you know how I’m doing in this quest. In the meantime, I have CUSTOMER OBSESSION written on the white board in my office for all to see, every time they come to talk to me.
I am proud to say that I used to work for AOL. This was back in the day when AOL was experiencing phenomenal growth. I worked with some Class A marketers while I was there, and I learned an incredible amount about the importance of testing. All marketers know that testing is key to continued success, but somehow not everyone is diligent about practicing it. There are some real basic Marketing 101 type things to keep in mind as you continue (or start!) your testing program:
Offer is important Audience (aka targeting) is important Creative is important (though perhaps not as important as #1 and 2 above) Testing one thing at a time is important
Offer is key because it’s what will bring your reader in. At AOL, we started with a ‘10 hours free’ offer. The offer kept going up though, with tests around more hours and multiple days being a part of it. The number of free hours kept expanding. Why? Because response was greater, including conversion to a paid subscription once the free trial was over, and even when taking into account the cost of the extra free time. Free is a powerful word and should be tested as a part of your offer strategy.
Audience is really about knowing who will buy your product and understanding where to find them. Are you targeting the 25-40 crowd? Then your advertising probably shouldn’t show 50-year olds. Try not to fall into the trap of “everyone wants my product.” You need to be more specific than that. Figure out what really defines your various customer segments. You need to analyze your database to really understand this, and it’s worth doing (and should be redone frequently).
Creative is fun to test, but do so wisely and as always, learn from your tests. I’ll use AOL again as an example. We found, through repeated testing, that putting a person’s picture on a CD package lowered response. We tested parents, kids, grandparents, couples, singles. And we reached the conclusion that showing people didn’t work so great for selling AOL. Perhaps it was because the person looking at the CD couldn’t identify with the person in the picture. I don’t really know the reason. But, it wasn’t a hard and fast rule as it turned out. The person in charge of Hispanic marketing decided to test a photo of an Hispanic person and guess what? It won! And not just in that one test. It continued to win through roll-out and for a long time after that. The key takeaway is to realize that different segments of your audience may respond to different images.
Testing one thing at a time is the best way to figure out what is impacting your increase or decrease in response. I read a really interesting article about website redesign. The author, Chris Goward (@chrisgoward), explains a ‘new’ method called Evolutionary Site Redesign. He talks about using an iterative approach where you test one component of your site at a time to gradually redesign the site as different approaches/offers/layouts work. They’ve had dramatic success with some of their clients with this approach. It makes so much sense!
Brand advocacy. It means championing your brand. It means social proof. Sometimes customers become brand advocates, and importantly, sometimes employees become brand advocates. Did you know that according to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust brand advocates?!
I recently met up with an old friend who holds a fairly senior position at Starbucks. He travels all over the world and interacts with Starbucks’ employees globally. He was telling me about one recent overseas trip where he was in a Starbucks talking with one of the baristas and I made a comment something like: “I bet he went out of his way to make his corporate visitor feel special!” His response was this: “Nah, I’m down a rung on the ladder. The number one focus of all of our employees, including the baristas, is the customer.”
That comment really gave me pause, because he really meant it. It wasn’t just corporate-speak. He gets to hobnob with the Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, quite a bit, and he said the whole company culture starts with Howard. The customer is #1, always.
Mind you, making their customers #1 is not an easy value to instill when you have over 21,000 stores in 65 countries. I believe that at least a part of Starbucks’ success is in how they treat their employees. They have a fairly amazing benefits package. Employees who work more than 20+ hours a week get health and other benefits. Same applies to tuition reimbursement (source: Starbucks.com). They support social causes and community.
And all this brings me back to Brand Advocates. After I met with my friend, I really had a whole new impression of Starbucks. I am not an avid Starbucks’ customer. I visit Starbucks primarily when I’m in an airport. But I can honestly say that after listening to my friend talk about how much he loves the company and how the corporate culture is so customer obsessed, my impression was swayed. He is a great brand advocate for his company. And that’s what we all need our employees to be.
If I asked you to click on one of the three ‘first sentences’ below, which one would you choose?
“It was just a faint glimmer really, so faint that I wasn’t sure I’d actually seen anything unusual. Very slowly I started to push the door open.”
“The weather was perfect, we had a full picnic basket, and the children were happy. What could possibly go wrong?”
“After effectively running my first webinar, I decided to give SlideShare a try.”
I’m guessing your choice would not be the third option. Why? Because everyone loves to read a good story. If it’s interesting/engaging/compelling, people will read it.
But sometimes, you might say, it’s hard to tell a story when I’m just trying to sell a widget. And that’s where you’d be wrong. Let’s say I had to sell Internet service (something I did for several years!). I could take this approach:
“Internet Service XYZ lets you connect to the Internet and enjoy faster upload and download speeds. Our unique service uses nano-technology to allow you to stay connected while enjoying the fastest speeds available. You can look at pictures, connect with your friends and shop online from the privacy of your home! We’ll even provide you with 5 email addresses and 10 gigabytes of storage.”
Or, I could use this one: “Sally Jones won the science fair contest four years in a row. She showed how photosynthesis worked, studied the impact to plants of clay in the soil, evaluated projectile speed as related to the arc of a trebuchet and studied the effect of salt on wood. When Sally grew up, she created a line of children’s science games. As a 100% online business, her Internet connection was her lifeline and eventually helped her earn her first million dollars. We are so proud that xyz company played a part in Sally’s success. How did we help? …”
See what I did there? Rather than telling you about what my product does, I showed you what it does by relating a story that showed how it’s used.
As a marketer, it’s your job to tell your story. As with all content marketing, the trick is to make it interesting, relevant to your audience, and engaging. Tweet that! You want them to read what you’ve written, and perhaps come back for more as they proceed through their buying cycle.
Gini Dietrich, founder of her own communications firm and author of the SpinSucks blog, is really good at storytelling and provides some great tips on how to write a great story here. She talks about the five essential parts of a good story: Passion, the Protagonist, the Antagonist, the Revelation, the Transformation. She explains how you can tie those pieces together to create your own brand’s story. It’s a great guide for you as you try to start writing stories your audience will want to read.
You can find many other lists on the Internet of the components that make a good story. The good news is, they’re all similar:
Know what you want to convey
Use your own experiences (or that of your customers)
Have a problem
Have a hero
Resolve the problem
Famous filmmaker Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Toy Story) did a Ted Talk on storytelling a couple of years ago. One of his key takeaways was the importance of “making me care.” If your audience doesn’t care, they won’t listen to your story. Set aside 20 minutes and give this a watch. And then I challenge you to tell a story for your next marketing campaign.