The $6.18 Customer Experience Difference Maker

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I’ll make this quick. I know you’re busy.

Anyone in this business has undoubtedly been exposed to the newest darling term among the marketing consultant set: “Customer Experience” or “CX.” Perhaps you’ve even been to a seminar or read a book on the subject of crafting a cradle-to-grave strategy to delight your customers, from the time they’re prospects to after-sale support. And perhaps you’ve wondered what that might mean in real-world terms.

So check this out.

thBought a new car recently. (The old clunker had clunked past 110,000 miles and it was time.) Perfectly pleasant buying experience, especially for a car dealership, which tends to settle in just below U.S. Congress on the public regard scale.

Anyhoo, a couple weeks after the purchase, I receive a check in the mail from the dealer. It’s for $6.18, for “overage in motor vehicle fee.” Turns out my invoice included a line-item fee ($50? $60? something like that…) for DMV registration, and apparently the dealer over-estimated, and was reimbursing me the difference.

th1Now, three things: One, I certainly don’t need the six bucks. Two, I’m willing to bet that it cost the dealer more than $6.18 to process, cut and mail
that check. And three, it’s entirely possible that the whole DMV overage was just a ruse, an excuse to mail me a check and curry my favor. But all of those are beside the point. Because when I saw that the dealer, two weeks after sale, was sending me legal tender, unexpectedly and unnecessarily, I found myself delighted.

That check will stick with me. And, down the road, when my shiny new car is a 110,000-mile clunker, I’ll be paying that dealer a visit. And it cost them exactly $6.18 for me to feel that way.

Not a bad investment in CX, right?

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Posted in customer experience, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Peril Of Feeding The Content Beast

"Feed me more pablum, Seymour."

“Feed me more pablum, Seymour.”

So tell me: When exactly did content that’s good enough become good enough?

Seems to me that it was right about the time that “content marketing,” bless its heart, swung the value pendulum from quality to quantity. To play the content marketing game, you’ve got to fill an online pipeline with words. Lots and lots of them, day after day, week after week. The beast is never satisfied — which is why our screens runneth over with insipid listicles and grammar-challenged articles and other utter pablum. That’s what happens when Content Audrey II says “feed me.”

The problem is, it’s nigh impossible to deliver that tonnage of quantity over time without sacrificing quality. And hey, maybe that’s okay with you. Maybe you’re willing to drop down a peg or two in quality if need be (and pay less for it).

But there are companies out there that won’t tolerate it; specifically, companies that stand for quality. They realize that when any key aspect of a brand — like its marketing communications, for instance — cuts quality corners and decides that good enough is good enough, that tends to telegraph an attitude about the company and its offerings. An attitude that’s damaging.

So, in short, your marcom goal can be to enter the social morass and keep talking, until your posts become just more yammering and your brand one more yammerer. Or, you can pay for quality over quantity, and come off as a more thoughtful thought leader, the sharper voice in the room, smarter and more discriminating in what you say, how and to whom you say it.

Does the latter scenario look familiar? It should. It’s the difference between noise and signal. And it’s how strong brands are built.

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Snark Jumps The Shark

awwwwwwww…puppeeeeeeee…..

awwwwwwww…puppeeeeeeee…..

awwwwww….baybeeeee….

awwwwww….baybeeeee….

awwwww….weepeeeee...

awwwww….weepeeeee…

You’ve noticed it, right?

The big ad world has gone soft. The biggest-spending Fortune 100 advertisers in the recent Super Bowl and the current Winter Olympics have created ads that would make Hallmark proud.

Moms and toddlers. Puppies and horseys. Paraplegics and loved ones. America The Beautiful (sung in gasp! different languages!) All designed to tug at heartstrings and handkerchiefs.

It’s a curious turn of events, since not very long ago, big advertising dollars were being spent to look edgy and snarky. Irony was in, sincerity was out, and you weren’t a cool advertiser unless your spot was the video equivalent of an arched brow.

Why the turnabout? Here’s Fatt Lipp’s theory: Social media—and more to the point, the ad world’s response to social media—is at least one driving force.

Back in the olden days (like, say, 2011), the Internets were replete with smooshiness. Incessant kitten videos (“I Can Haz Kitteh?”). Toddlers doing aDORable things. Heartfelt Facebook greetings and responses. And at cool ad agencies from Flatiron to Frisco (apologies, SF; the alliteration worked), hip young creatives snickered at the saturation of social schmaltz. And as hip, bleeding-edge young creatives are wont to do, they zagged—into a Fringe-esque alternate universe of irony and snark.

Fast forward. Social media has evolved. Especially with the advent of Twitter, which gives every living soul a platform for pith, a giant wave of quick wit—or feeble attempts at same—has swept the social mediasphere. (Your Twitter feed today is likely to contain dozens of snarky little wisecracks.) And agency creatives, aghast that snark had jumped the shark and their M.O. was being co-opted by the great unwashed, have zagged again. Into the marshmallow universe of puppies (Bud), toddlers (P&G) and inclusiveness (Coke) that the populace was abandoning.

An over-generalization? Sure. But hey, a 300-word blog post isn’t going to be a sociology thesis now, is it? So, that said, is there any basis to this theory? What do you think? I’d like to know.

Posted in Bad & Ugly Advertising | Leave a comment

I Know What You Did Last Hour

jetsetter

After Googling “Caribbean resorts,” this started popping up immediately on my Facebook page.

When you see a Facebook ad or Yahoo junk mail for a product immediately after you’ve done a search for it, it’s a wee bit unnerving, no? Sure, the NSA is tapping our calls, texts and emails, but that’s invisible. When Zuckerberg throws a too-personalized ad at you, though, he’s essentially saying, “I know what you’ve been doing online, and here’s proof.”

iphone

And after I purchased an iPhone 5, Zuck was all over me.

Creepy? No doubt. But color me impressed as well. Throughout my umpteen years as a brand/marketing communications consultant, I’ve continually hammered home a central tenet for success: first determine who your customers are and what they want, then craft customized content to them. Many organizations have a very tough time doing this. And (shameless plug alert) Fatt Lipp specializes in helping them solve the puzzle.

Why the JLH photo? It's an oblique reference to the blog title. (Plus it gave me an excuse to Google JLH photos.)

Why the seemingly gratuitous JLH photo? It’s an oblique reference to the blog post title. Okay, okay, it also gave me an excuse to Google JLH pics. (There, you happy?)

Zuckerberg, Mayer, Schmidt, et al have cracked that code, online at least. Using Big Data to track everyone’s online movements, they’re pinpointing who each customer is and what he/she wants.

But that’s not even the magical part. (After all, market researchers like Acxiom have been doing this for years). No, the gee-whizness is the ability to turn that info, nearly instantly, into individually targeted banner ads, emails, etc.

Closing the gap between consumer research and consumer communication has long been a marketing challenge (witness all those Forrester and Gartner and Nielsen decks gathering dust on office credenzas). The fact that onliners are finally making it work—identify the customer and what they want, and address them accordingly—just warms this brand/marketing professional’s heart. Creepy or not.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d like to know.

Posted in Social media, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Self-satisfaction the iPhone way

iphone-5-commercialApologies to all you clients waiting for Fatt Lipp to meet your deadline. I recently made the switch from Android to iPhone, and I’ve been wasting a lot of time checking out new apps, customizing yet another lockscreen wallpaper, or engaging in some other pointless solitary activity. In other words— appsturbating.

How did it come to this? A little background: In the days before Verizon and Apple made nice-nice, I bought a perfectly serviceable Android phone, an HTC Incredible. By the time Verizon got iPhone, I had no logical reason to switch. Android really is a nice platform, in some ways superior to iPhone (sssshhh). And yet…

And yet…

And yet, the iPhone is not about logic. It’s about emotion. And I couldn’t help feeling, all that time, that I was cheating. I’ve been an Apple guy for years and years. (The Fatt Lipp household’s current tech inventory: 1 Mac Powerbook, 2 Macbooks, 1 iPhone, 2 iPads and 2 iTouches, as well as numerous iPod iterations littering the junk drawer.) Sure, my Android was, if not Incredible, just fine. But I was always looking across the bay at that green light.

Finally, when upgrade time came, I opted to go iPhone. And immediately, it renewed my appreciation for the utterly inexplicable emotional connection that Apple so exquisitely elicits in its products.

To the best of my knowledge, only with iPhone can such a level of self-satisfaction be achieved. Android owners don’t diddle with their devices. They don’t pull it out of their pants during downtime just to play with it. Nope. I never did that with my Incredible. Appsturbation, it seems, is the sole domain of iPhone masters. Of which I count myself as one, finally.

Am I wrong here? Do, say, Galaxy 4 owners appsturbate as well? I’d like to hear your opinion, iPhone and Android owners alike. (Just, uh, give me a few minutes first, okay?)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Epic Skyfail: The Name’s Brand. Failed Brand.

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“Ready for some fun?
Neither am I.”

Saturday night at the Fatt Lipp household. Curl up on the sofa with the missus and cue up the quintessential popcorn movie: a James Bond flick. Ol’ reliable. When you sign on for a couple hours with Bond, you’re choosing a brand that has delivered unflagging consistency over five decades. We all know the brand attributes: Creative action scenes. Deadly doodads. Stunning cinematography. Memorable villain. Exotic locales. Equally exotic women. And that trademark sophisticated bemusement, even in dire circumstances. In short, a thrill ride on the screen. Sit back and enjoy the fun. Because that, after all, is the Bond brand: fun.

And that’s what Saturday night with Skyfall was—for the first hour or so. It had all the above attributes (especially the cinematography… just gorgeous), plus an intriguing wrinkle focusing on Bond’s advancing age. Nice touch.

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“007, why did you bring me to this god-forsaken place?”
“Ask the screenwriters, mum.”

Then, inexpicably, it all went wrong. About two-thirds in, some screenwriter or producer decided to throw Craig and Dench into Bond’s grey, dreary boyhood home in grey, dreary Scotland. And there the movie stalled for the remaining hour, all dismal, brooding and claustrophic. (You could almost hear the anguished cries of director Sam Mendes: “Nooooooooo!!!”)

Maybe, maybe if this were not a franchise flick, maybe if it were Joe Secret Agent returning prodigally to his homestead, it might have worked. But this was Bond. James Bond. And the brand had veered way, way off course. Crushing disappointment. Crashing bore.

Bond. Boring. Believe it? Bah.

The lesson in here for marketers: You can extend your brand, modify your brand, shake or stir your brand. (Hey, one needs to adapt to the times.) But you do not have a license to kill your brand.

Posted in Branding and brand loyalty | 2 Comments

Groundhog Year: Are you stuck in the same marketing loop?

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What if you lived the same year over and over again?

What if that year was, like, 2003?

Picture it: You wouldn’t do any online marketing. After all, companies, not customers, still control the marketing landscape.

Your website can just lie there, closing its eyes and thinking of England, instead of working hard with inbound content that pulls in traffic and attracts qualified leads.

You can spend your marketing budget on hidebound, outbound paid media, because in 2003, push still works, so why pull?

You can still expect consumers to meet you halfway in the marketing discussion, by faxing requests or calling your 800-number or filling out BRCs.

You can bypass search marketing and SEO, because they haven’t been invented yet.

And while you’re blissfully living your Groundhog Year, do you know what your competitors are doing?

Eating your lunch, that’s what.

They’re ramping up to Marketing 2013, where the customer is now fully in charge of the marketing discussion. When it begins. Where it begins. And how it proceeds.

Your competitors realize that consumers won’t spend any more effort than a Google search and a click or two to find or engage with marketers.

So they’ve already gotten into search marketing and SEO to pull people to their sites.

They’re using social media to jump-start consumer conversations, and brand relationships.

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When people find their websites, your competitors are bribing them with content marketing—freebies like a thought-leadership white paper or other content, which they typically outsource to professionals to develop for them.

Oh, so you want to flip the calendar page? You’re done with “I Got You Babe” and Ned Ryerson? You seek the marketing equivalent of waking up next to Andie MacDowell?

Then you’ve got some work to do, don’t you? 2003 called. They want their groundhog back.

Posted in Online marketing and advertising, SEO: Search Engine Optimization, Social media | Leave a comment

Eradicate ‘Really?’ Really? Mr. Seinfeld and I Beg To Differ

I can haz gamma rayz?

So it wasn’t just me after all.

When the Arts section of the October 1 New York Times devoted an entire front-page article to the popular rhetorical rejoinder “Really?” — and whether that word had become overused — I had two immediate reactions.

The first was head-shaking bemusement. As in, “You’re devoting a 1200-word article to this? The paper of record has nothing better to do with those column inches? Really?”

The second was, quite frankly, concern. I’ll admit to using Really on a fairly consistent basis, most notably in child-rearing. Hell, in this post-authoritarian era we live in, almost all we parents have left in the discipline quiver are an arched eyebrow and a “Really?” (“Microwaving the cat, Jack? Really?”) Now the New York Times wants to take one of those arrows away from me? Really?

My hero. Really.

Needless to say, I was bummed, especially as a writer who needs to keep up on “in” and “out” terms. Was Really really passé?

Then, who should come to the rescue but the originator and popularizer of Really: one Jerry Seinfeld, who took the article’s author to task in a terse, 250-word Letter to the Editor in which he succinctly skewered the notion of Really eradication. (“Really, Neil? Really? You’re upset about too many people saying, ‘Really?’? I mean really.”)

Sigh. My hero. Thank you to Mr. Seinfeld for fighting the good fight and giving us all permission to keep Really in our colloquial lexicon. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not done with it yet.

Posted in In & Out, Watch your language | 4 Comments

Guest Blogger Larry Gorkin: ‘Best Buy, You’re No Apple’

[This post is reprinted with permission by my friend Larry Gorkin, Managing Director of Stonebridge Consulting Group (stonebridgeconsulting.com).]

It’s hard to watch companies make mistakes. That was my reaction when the WSJ recently reported that Best Buy was testing a new high service store format modeled after Apple’s successful retail outlets. But, it won’t work; Best Buy doesn’t have the skills/culture to deliver service like Apple.

This story is a good reminder that strategies need to be aligned with a company’s skills and culture if they are going to work. It’s also a reminder not to test strategies you can’t expand. Both are universal truths and the subject of this month’s Winning Ways.

Aligning Strategy With Capabilities

Great strategies can only succeed if the organization can implement them. And strong test ideas are only valuable if they can scale and be expanded. That’s two important lessons from Best Buy’s test of a new high service store format meant to mimic Apple’s retail outlets.

Best Buy is the giant electronics retailer focused on reversing two years of declining sales and a sinking stock price. The company has been steadily losing customers to on-line retailers with lower costs and lower prices; some consumers shop Best Buy before buying elsewhere. The stores are notorious for poor service.

As reported, a key element of Best Buy’s new store format is a Solution Central help desk, meant to resemble the Genius Bar at Apple’s outlets. Best Buy hopes that consumers will come to the stores more regularly for advice and ideas.

The average customer only goes to Best Buy twice a year.

On the surface, Best Buy’s move seems smart. Most consumers want more and better help than you can get at Best Buy today. And Apple has already shown that a combination of smart store design and good service can drive business. Apple’s sales per square foot are among the highest of any retailer, and the stores enjoy tremendous customer loyalty.

So why be skeptical? Mostly because it is unlikely that Best Buy can ever execute the strategy. High touch customer service is simply not in the company’s skill set or culture; it never has been. Leaders can’t declare customer service; it requires genuine skills among each individual employee and must be ingrained in the culture.

Apple has been focused on customer service since opening its first store in 2001. The Apple culture and customer service business system has developed and been refined for over a decade. A company like Best Buy can’t replicate that overnight.

And that does not even address the issue of scale. Best Buy has over 1,000 stores versus 363 for Apple. It’s hard to create consistency at Best Buy’s scale, let alone to do it overnight. Even if Best Buy’s test is successful, it has a low potential for a fast chain-wide roll-out.

Of course, the point is bigger than Best Buy’s customer service capabilities. The real issue is that leaders must be sure their organization has the skills and culture to succeed with any given strategy. And leaders shouldn’t start a test they can’t expand. Here are some practical steps leaders can take to avoid a situation like Best Buy.

  1. Know your organization’s capabilities before developing the strategy. Determine the team’s strengths, weaknesses, and culture; make sure the analysis is at a discrete actionable level.
  2. Identify strategy options and determine their success requirements. Map the strategy options against your organization’s skills to determine alignments and gaps. Identify options that truly leverage the strengths.
  3. Select your strategy based on the overall potential for success. Make sure this evaluation weighs the ability to execute the plan equally versus its theoretical market impact. Plan how to fill any key gaps in skill dependencies.
  4. Consider if and how tests can be scaled before starting them. Identify the skills, resources, and timing needed to expand a test if it were successful. Determine if the path forward is realistic.

Question: How well is your strategy aligned with the organization’s capabilities? Would adjustments to one or the other improve results?   How big of an impact could you create?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Grammar Police Rock

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Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments