Why “Customer Service” is a Joke

Most companies assume they’re giving customers what they want. Usually, they’re kidding themselves. When Bain & Company recently surveyed 362 firms, they found that 80% believe they deliver a “superior experience” to customers. But when they asked the firms’ customers, they found that only 8% are really delivering.
Talk about delusion. Why this huge discrepancy?
The folks at Bain found two reasons for the gap:
“The first is a basic paradox: Most growth initiatives damage the most important source of sustainable, profitable growth-a loyal customer franchise. To increase revenue and profits, businesses do things like raising transaction fees that end up alienating their core customers. Efforts to pursue new customers compound the problem, distracting management from serving the core.
“The second is that good relationships are hard to build. It’s extremely difficult to understand what people really want, keep your promises and maintain a dialogue to ensure you meet customers’ changing needs. Even initiatives to “better understand” customers can backfire, drowning firms in a sea of data.”
I’ll give you the third reason: management confuses actions and activity with outcomes. Just because you have a customer feedback program in place, doesn’t mean it’s effective. The appearance of virtue is not virtue.
More from the report: “Even initiatives to “better understand” customers typically backfire. A company can get so engrossed in collecting and sifting through data on patterns of use, retention, purchases and other transactions that buyers become numbers rather than people, segments rather than individuals. Companies become deaf to the real voices of real customers.” [emphasis added]
Download the report here.

How We Buy: Search!

Yahoo and Compete, Inc., recently announced key findings from a new study which tracked Internet search and transaction activity specifically related to retail apparel Web sites over one year.
The study found that search was used by 20% of the 25 million unique monthly visitors engaging in apparel activity on the sites Compete tracked.
For the study, “Search and the Engaged Customer: An Apparel Study”, Compete analyzed the online shopping behavior of its panel of two million Internet users and conducted a survey of over 400 apparel shoppers who used search, visited one of 49 apparel retailer or manufacturer sites and subsequently purchased apparel offline. The study observed both Web search and sponsored search activity across Yahoo!, Google, Ask Jeeves, MSN, Lycos and Hotbot.
Key findings from the study include:
Search Influences Offline Purchasing. According to the findings, 78% of people who purchased apparel offline after using Internet search reported that search influenced their store visit and purchase. Nearly half (47%) of these buyers have also purchased apparel online and spend 26% more on apparel annually than those who do not use search.
Apparel searchers are highly engaged shoppers. The study found that, over a 60-day shopping period, apparel searchers spent more than 30% more time when visiting retail sites than non-search visitors and were more likely to engage in site activities such as customizing a product image, viewing shipping methods or return policies and submitting an email name. The research also showed that apparel searchers were also more likely to make a purchase (online or offline). Apparel searchers generated an average online conversion rate of 21%, compared with the 18% average conversion rate generated by non-search users.
Consumers use search throughout the buying cycle. Consumers conduct multiple searches and use search throughout their purchase decision, with 21% reporting they use search to find out about new styles and brands, 27% using search to find out about sales and deals and over 50% using search to find a store address, phone number or website.
“It’s clear from these findings that consumers are using search for multiple objectives throughout their apparel shopping process,” said Diane Rinaldo, retail category director, Yahoo! Search Marketing. “Search provides retail marketers a way to reach their customers in a comprehensive manner that allows them to effectively tie together their online and offline sales, enhance brand awareness and increase market share.”
Hmmm. All roads lead to Google. It’s funny, but I’m beginning to feel sorry for Microsoft.

Google’s Product Development & Management Process Revealed

From Marissa Mayer via Evelyn Rodriguez. Download here>>
Thanks for taking notes, Evelyn!
Some highlights:
Small, Agile Engineering Teams
• 3-person units (like start-ups!)
• Unit is a project – they don’t have departments
• Unit is co-located (sit next to each other) also with PM
• Engineers work on project for 3-4 months, then transition to next project
• Very fluid
• With 180 engineers, they can work on 60 projects – so they can afford to invest
on high-risk, high-return projects as well. (They call high-risk projects “Googlettes”)
• Each project manager works with 9-10 people across units. For example, maybe a category such as “Enterprise Infrastructure”
• The technical lead in each unit of 3 is responsible for technical excellence of project.
• Documentation
– Very sparse, only what is needed in Product Requirements Document
(PRD)
– Eric Schmidt: “Late binding decision-making process”
– Evolves based on feedback
– Includes information on general market size, revenue in PRD but believe that “if you build something users use, there will be a way to make money”
• Large Projects
– Example: Enterprise Product – broken into logical modules, thus 4 units
(of 3 people) = 12 people
• Monetization teams
– Larry Page: “No such thing as a successful failure; if it is useful to people, later we can make revenue from it in a logical way.”
Focus on providing value to user first.
– Then create team to execute the “monetization” of most useful products/services.
• Marissa (speaker) was on team to monetize search
– Created AdWords, etc.
This is very, very interesting. Beeg trouble for moose and squirrel, er, Microsoft!

The Advertising Saturation Point

For every automobile, and maybe every product, there’s a threshold beyond which your ad budget is wasted.
That’s the premise of this startlingly clear analysis from Evan Hirsh and Mark Schweizer from Booz Allen Hamilton’s Cleveland office. They ask:
“…What if there was an optimal level of advertising spend for any given product — beyond which the money was completely wasted?”
And explain:
“Economists often speak of “price elasticity”: When prices rise or fall, consumers respond by changing their purchase strategies. That is why price increases do not automatically lead to equivalent rises in revenues. The same kind of elasticity exists with advertising. For any given brand in any given market, there is a saturation point for advertising spend. Up to that point, increases in the ad budget will generate results; but once the market for a product or service is saturated, no matter how much a company spends on advertising, it will not produce enough added sales to justify the cost. The best possible budget places just enough ads to reach the saturation point, and not a dollar’s worth of advertising more. Companies that follow this principle will optimize their overall profitability because they will spend on advertising only what they can recoup in revenues.”
An important wake up call for marketing and advertising strategists everywhere. Download here >>

How it Works: Double Loop Marketing™

I keep getting emails asking me how “Double Loop Marketing” works. Here’s a quick explanation.
Let’s say a company like Texas Instruments wants establish itself as a thought-leader in the RFID marketspace.
In the traditional PR world, they could issue a few press releases, give a few speeches, write a few whitepapers, and then hope the media would cover them.
But what if TI decided on a “Double Loop Marketing™” approach?
What if Texas Instruments brought together its partners, industry thought-leaders, R&D professionals, VC shops, and senior executives in an online thought-leadership-based “double-loop” site to:
– Learn about the latest trends and technologies in RFID
– Define and understand the specific factors that contribute to improving strategy
– Develop recommendations for creating a RFID management discipline within your organization
– Present sample business justifications supporting strategic and learning investments in RFID
– Foster discussion of lessons learned from early adopters
– Disseminate news, events, and thought leadership articles on a monthly basis
– Create a framework for measuring performance and ROI
– Build a worldwide community of interested senior executives and target them w/ e-mail bulletins that include messages from TI and its partners
– Develop industry-specific campaigns promoting the community – including offline events, publications, and more.
– Build a members-only community of practice around the gurus and leading implementors
The site would include blogs as well, from industry experts and TI subject-matter experts.
Of course the cost of something like that is far higher than funding a blog or two, but its impact on the marketspace is far more potent.
By building a thought-leadership hub on RFID, TI establishes itself as “the one to learn from” and as I like to say: moves from “mind share” to “wallet share”
Blogs on the other hand are better suited to the voice of an individual. So if TI doesn’t have the resources to build the “big” site I mention, they can still play by allowing one or more of their subject matter experts to start blogging on the ins-and-outs of RFID.
Of course, great care must be taken to make sure that the expert actually does have something to say, and is not the mouthpiece for a veiled PR initiative. Scoble at Microsoft and Schwartz at Sun come to mind instantly, right?
Not enough? Here’s a slightly longer explanation of Double Loop Marketing.

The Long Tail in Print: Buying Books a Page at a Time

The Amazon “Pages program” would “unbundle” books, by allowing customers to purchase and view the pages they want or need.
Amazon “Upgrade” will give customers the option to purchase a physical book and perpetual online access to the book. [I do like this idea- now I won’t have lug all my books around the world.]
When will this happen? Sometime next year… read about it here.
How does this compare with Google’s “Print Library”?
Here’s what the bloggers are saying:
“Suddenly the reason why publishers and authors are so pissed off at Google becomes a little bit clearer. They think that they’re going to be able to slice and dice their books, selling little pieces of the book as people want them. They’re taking a page from the entertainment industry — and, like that industry, they’re going to discover this plan won’t work very well. They’ve just added friction in the form of additional transaction costs, both mental and monetary to finding information.”
Techdirt
“Ultimately, it’s a very Long Tail idea, isn’t it? Allow people to buy stuff the way they want to, so that you can wring every last cent out of your content, by earning $1 from someone who isn’t willing to spend $10 for the entire book.”
Yellow Handman
“It’s figured out a way to please authors and publishers, spread around the money for everyone, and do the right thing for readers. Google should sit up and take notice.”
Konnecke.com
“It sounds intriguing – especially to folks who conduct research or who cite information. For example, I might want to cite a book in a blog post or an article or something, but not wait for the entire book (or even buy it). But to pay a nominal amount for access to a few pages – well, that might well be worth the cost.”
Walloworld

Adrian Slywotzky: Brand Investment Traps

“Brands have become increasingly fragile and difficult to sustain. Failure to invest in the right mix of activities at the right time risks eroding the brand. On the other hand, those companies that anticipate and avoid the common investment traps can reap superior growth in brand value over a long period of time.”
This from Andrew Pierce and Adrian Slywotzky in MMJ. Download here.
So what are the traps, you ask?
1. Failure to invest over time
2. Wrong investment mix
3. Wrong sequence
4. Myopic focus
5. Wrong touchpoints
6. Wrong positioning
7. Failure to adapt
8. Spending too little on too many brands
9. Overstretching the master brand
10. Dilution
11. Wrong metrics
12. Trying to turn around a dead brand
13. Failure to follow through
I’ll add #14: Executive-Ego-driven branding!

Forrester: It’s Still About Content

Forrester’s Chris Charron notes:
“Now that two-thirds of North American households are online, and broadband has reached 72.5 million US households, value has begun to shift from the business of connecting pipelines and selling products to the market for content. Home networks and cheap devices free media content from the shackles of space and time, opening up distribution, and creating the opportunity for new business models. Fasten your seat belts: The content explosion is only beginning.

Charron predicts:
“As video content breaks free from the constraints of space and time, executives should take some lessons from the music industry. Content executives who are looking at the risks and opportunities of online video distribution should take note:
– TV networks, movie studios, and cable and satellite operators will need to jettison the notion that revenue should derive from a single source, and embrace alternative ways of thinking about making money from video.
– To make alternative video distribution profitable, content producers should begin to focus on the small(er) screen and the creation of unique content that consumers will pay for to use on their mobile phones or iPods.
– Internet video — with its ad-supported model — will increase in quantity and improve in quality. Some of the currently free content will make the leap to fee-based offerings as the video iPod and similar devices prove their worth to content owners and consumers.
– Consumers will begin their own video explosion of video podcasts that will let them be seen AND heard, some with hopes of recognition that would mirror the mainstream success of Internet-goofball-turned-MTV-star Andy Milonakis.
– Traditional TV advertisers will be forced to find new ways to market their wares in portable video: Look out for sponsorships, product-placement, and long form showcase-style ads to become more prevalent.”

How to Spend your Marketing and Ad Budget

Kathy Sierra’s blog post should make you think twice.
Even someone as mainstream as Sergio Zyman says: “The problem in marketing today is that we spend 95% of our time and money on advertising and 5% on the rest of the stuff. What I propose to you today is to flip it around: Spend 5% of your time and money on advertising and 95% on everything else. If you do that, you’ll sell a lot more to your customers.”
I agree. That’s how I discovered Double Loop Marketing.