The Mountaintop Insights, Inspiration and Perspective for Enlightened Marketers

February 25, 2010

Updating the Mountain Top

Filed under: Customer Loyalty — Jeff @ 4:44 pm

Just spent some time with a good friend who thankfully is completely honest with me. Gave me some great feedback on the blog and we are going to be doing some changes over the next couple days.

Apparently to Mac users the blog looks like a steaming pile of crap. Do people still use Macs???

Thanks to Steve Harris for his time, good humour, and great advice!

February 22, 2010

Social (Media) Experience Design Series – Prelude

Just a quick post to highlight the upcoming series on Social (Media) Experience Design. It will definitely be 3 parts, perhaps 4.

  1. Essentials of Social (Media) Experience Design: How to design a social experience from research to strategy to actual execution and management of the experience.
  2. Social Experience Design for Large Enterprise and B-to-B: The self-proclaimed gurus of Social Media would have you believe that the same approach works for all, it doesn’t. Large Enterprise, especially B-to-B, needs a risk managed approach to integrating social media with their communications and marketing. Here’s a hint, it has nothing to do with Twitter or Facebook.
  3. Demand Generation in Social Media Environments: It’s the question on everyone’s mind, how can i get leads and revenue from Social Media? I’ll attempt to clear some of the murk about integrating Demand Generation and Social Media together in both private and public environments.
  4. The Shared Social Experience: Delving into how experiences are shared and looking at human behavior within a shared experience and this can be leveraged into positive customer experiences, trial and rock solid relationships to lead it all back to the almighty dollar.

The first part will be out alter tonight with the rest of the series over the course of the week.

As always, i haven’t cornered the market on wisdom, in fact far from it. You disagree, have insight or want to share on these topics, by all means connect with me. All i can promise is to be good company for you on the path to enlightenment, how and when we each reach that milestone is our own personal journey.


Jeff – Sensei

February 20, 2010

Paying it Forward – Human Behavior Online – Part 3 of 3

As a business, it is hard for us to selflessly think about others. Over the past ten years I have watched in fascination what to me looks like the slowest train wreck in history; at times i have watched from a safe distance, other times I have been a passenger, and sometimes the conductor. What I am talking about is that we as business seem to have lost touch with what it is to be human. What we see now, are numbers.

If we look at the incredible advances in data driven marketing and how it has helped us understand customer patterns and behavior has it also helped to dehumanize our approach to customers? We tend not to look at people, we look at “people” or we call them click, followers, fans, traffic, impressions, etc…

Has this been our biggest failing as marketers?

Oh to be Human Again

And then suddenly, in rides Social Media. A consumer nirvana; one place to reach hundreds of millions of customers. It is so close to us and yet remains out of reach for some many businesses. Why?

Maybe it’s that 800lb gorilla on our backs that’s saying, “How can we make money from this; what’s the ROI?” and because greed tends to create abhorrent behavior in the best of us we look at these consumers as dollar signs instead of people.

Perhaps as businesses we just don’t know how to act properly in an online social situation, like the drunk, obnoxious frat boy staggering around spilling his beer on everyone at the party. To him, he was the life of the party. To the rest of the party goers he was a jackass. His behavior screams look at me, but everyone that looks is turned off. Not that I would know of course…

I can’t help feeling that many times this is the way consumers perceive business which may explain why many business forays into Social Media become lightning rods for hostility and negativity. Of course, this is amplified many times by our deep seeded drive to control everything we touch.

Paying it Forward Works

I am not the first one to say this and certainly won’t be the last. The web is full of conventional wisdom on how to approach people, so maybe I can offer a different perspective to help advance the understanding of online human behavior in juxtaposition to Social Media and online relationships in general.

First, paying it forward is a simple, but powerful concept for a selfless act to benefit another human being or group of human beings. The belief is that paying forward will eventually reach back to us in some positive form. The key to paying it forward is to be selfless; in other words sincerely not expect anything back. Tough call for any business to make, let alone a single person.

Second, what does “Paying it forward” do? Well, let’s start with a little list:

  • It creates a good feeling in the recipient and if you believe like i do that emotions are contagious, this is a good thing. (I point back to Connected by Nicholas Christakis for an even more defensible argument on emotional contagion). A single person can help dozens of people feel good, but a company can help thousands.
  • It builds a subtle kind of obligation. Obligation, even subtle obligation, is a powerful emotion; its the glue that binds a marriage together through all adversity. When you do something nice for someone, there is a natural tendency or feeling in the recipient to return that favor. Now, this doesn’t apply to everyone because a lot of people will just keep taking without giving, but it is worth it.
  • It creates a positive, memorable experience. Try it our for yourself – Remember back to some interactions with others that were truly memorable – you will find some incredible acts of selfless service behind those memories.
  • It can potentially create brand evangelists. Brand champions or evangelists spread the word for us. This is the ultimate payback of paying it forward. Does it happen every time? No. But, the more powerful the act you pay forward, the greater the chance you will create evangelists.

How do you Pay it Forward as a Business?

Well, Social Media has given us that chance. Channels like Twitter and FaceBook allow us to engage with customers at a human level and interact in a way we never could before. These channels also allow for new ways to service customers or anyone for that matter. To me, I believe the best way of Paying it Forward for companies is finding ways to improve 3 things:

  1. Your business’ ability to listen. Everything begins with listening. It is the basis for appreciation and focused response. Clear understanding of customer need, issues or just being there for them is a price of entry for Social Media Experience Design.
  2. Your business’ ability to react. All talk and no action will kill you in Social Media environments; public or private. people need value and reasonable response. Use Social Media to enable your customers to use your products/services easier, faster and better in little ways.
  3. Your business’ ability to appreciate. Appreciation and recognition of customer loyalty is critical. When was the last time a company said “thank you, I really appreciate what you have done for us”. Appreciation creates positive stimulus in anyone who receives it. A relationship is hollow without appreciation and is the basis of long term loyalty.

Avoiding Trying to do Too Much

Many times, I have seen instances were companies had it right, but tried to do too much. Its a habit that needs to be controlled. Often, all customers or consumers want are little things. By planning to do little things, we also limit risk of failure and minimize potential damage to our brand.

In the end, Napoleon Hill said it best, “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.

I enjoy comments and invite debate. Please feel free to do either.

February 16, 2010

The Relationship Revolution – Online Human Behavior Series – Part 2 of 3

I have been thinking for a long time that we have missed something. I feel like we are looking at the tail end of the horse as its walking into the distance. Here’s what is bothering me.

As human beings our strongest motivator in life is to build relationships that help us achieve our goals – personal, political and business included. No king ever gained power without the help of an army or political allies, no president ever took office without the help of millions of voters and no one ever married without first building a relationship with their betrothed; unless you include arranged marriages and even those allow the bride and groom to get to know each other. All this to say that relationships are very, very important to us. Two points really hit me:

  • This transcends our personal and business relationships to affect brands as well and the people that represent those brands.
  • Communication is the most important ingredient in every relationship – it is the enabler and without it relationships wither and die on the vine like fruit left to rot.

Sacrifice Communication in the Interest of Efficiency and Profit

Here is where I start to see some problems… In the mid to late 90s companies started changing the way they communicated with their customers. Companies began to think about how to improve efficiency (read: cut costs/head count) of communication between them and their customers introducing some wonderful web technology (such as e-commerce, online accounts, etc) and complex phone systems able to handle almost any customer issue. These system improvements had some wonderful upside to help manage customers but what was the cost? I am a firm believer in balance and that in this case the negatives of efficiency improvements were gradual, unseen and severe.

What Exactly did We Sacrifice?

Let’s start with relationships. When we eliminated the people connection from one end of the relationship, we eliminated communication. Simple. Now we can reach people (eventually) but companies have made it difficult, often complex to navigate these (both web and phone alike). This process increases frustration in just about everyone using these systems and frustration leads to? An indifferent or negative experience.

The other big one we sacrifice when we replace people with technology is loyalty. Think about it. Who are you most loyal to and why? What is the relationship you have with that brand that makes you so loyal? It’s a powerful connection of some kind that is based on a relationship.Now, granted this is a sliding scale depending on the industry with service, financial and retail industries ranking high in human connection and consumer packaged goods ranking lower.

Lastly, we may be sacrificing brand positioning. Why’s that? Well, if we leave it to customers to shop online without human intervention potential (like live help chat), we risk comparison based on the lowest competitive facts – price and features. When it reaches that level, we lose a lot of the hard work that marketing has done and combined with the above, we risk losing the loyalty of our current customers and minimize loyalty we can build in new customers.

In the end it is the relationships we have with companies that determine loyalty. These are built on trust and comfort with the people we deal with in B-to-B and B-to-C models equally. It is all about the answering the question: Do i feel good about doing business with this person?

The Cough

So what was a consumer to do? It was difficult to connect with anybody in a company, and even discouraged at times. Where do we go for our relationships? Well, let’s start with places like Yahoo groups and push onto heirs like MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter. This is where consumers found the relationships where they could talk about the brands they liked, didn’t like and everything in between. Was it born solely of consumer frustration at not being able to develop relationships with companies? Certainly that wasn’t the only contributor, as Social Media channels provide all sorts of personal gratification, but it was a key contributor. Behind all of this is the evolving human relationship with companies. Gone are the days of keeping the customer in the dark and isolated; now the tables have turned.

Where is the Consumer (and B-to-B) Relationship Going?

Well, its very liquid and companies need to be looking forward instead of trying to catch up with today which could also be yesterday by now. Were I leading a large enterprise I would be investing heavily in ways (both new and old) to connect my employees with my customers to do two things:

  1. Enable ease of access to my products and services, including fast and friendly resolution of customer issues. This includes looking at mobile-enabled service, stream lining of customer engagement processes, and greater empowerment of front line staff to deal with critical issues. In fact, front line employees should be rewarded based on this.
  2. Build relationships with customers at the ground level. It is so critical to build personal relationships that can withstand the corporate bullshit that most customers have to deal with. Everyone needs a go-to person; someone who is their advocate with that brand. Is it so hard? Not really.

How Does Social Media Fit In?

Well, most consumers are now fairly comfortable with developing relationships online and have been doing so for a long time. Social Media provides a brilliant foundation for developing “one-to-one” or “one-to-many” relationships with customers. But here is the catch, I don’t think that Twitter or FaceBook are good alternatives. The best solution is something that is semi-private and based on your brand. A place where a customer can invite anyone they want to be a part of the community. And it should be focused on service. In an ideal world, the private environment would enable the customer to pass back and forth between the public (Twitter, YouTube, and FaceBook) and private branded communities.

Hell, I can even see a future where the internal employee social environment of a company is integrated closely with the customer environment. This is a shift that is on the way as we look at new engagement models like C-to-B and C-to-C.

The Secret to Mastering Customer Relationships via Social Media

It is one as old as human civilization; use it to build great relationships. But Social Media needs an unconventional approach – not the tired old ways of the Advertising and Communications industries. This a channel that is about being a part of the whole, not commanding an empire. It is about discussion and being part of ideas, not preaching rhetoric to the masses. It is about an evening of the playing field where a single consumer wields a voice as great as yours; sometimes greater.

My current projects are all about helping my clients be part of developing community around some great ideas. They are enablers and contributors, taking no glory and appreciating everyone equally. Is it a formula for success? Too early to tell. But it is heads and tails better than the current thinking of most companies. We believe it will lead to the brand being connected to some great and noble ideas and that when customers think of this idea, our work comes top of mind, not through us, but through the community.

The Diminishing Returns of CRM

The CRM industry is completely infatuated with data that looks at understanding the patterns of customer behavior for the dual purpose of expanding share of wallet and improving loyalty. These are selfish goals and customer know it. CRM needs to change direction to focus on customer relationships as defined by the customer. A probable future is a convergence of Social Media, CRM and front line service delivery into one super service channel. Now that’s a sexy future to me as a customer.

February 11, 2010

We are all Connected – The Great Ecosystem

I have just started reading a book that has me tremendously excited. The book is Connected and is a visionary achievement in explaining how we are all connected emotionally to each other and the complex cause-affect relationships between people in social networks. In essence the book explains how emotions are contagious and that emotions of people we don’t even know are affecting us; a friend of a friend for example.

So far, it is a fascinating exploration of the human experience from such a fresh perspective.

Super Organisms or Ecosystems

One interesting analogy they use is that social networks are much like super organisms with each individual affecting the whole while being affected by all of the other “parts” or individuals. I think that the analogy of an ecosystem works better for my work on Social Media networks rather than the thought of one organism, albeit super. When you shift perspectives to look at Social Media environments to that of, say Charles Darwin, you begin to see the intricate patterns of an ecosystem and all of the species struggling to exist; a species could be anything from a person, group of people, a corporation or even an idea. All of these species are vying for dominance and trying to increase their numbers (read followers, fans or members).  In the end, i think it’s a case of “po-tay-to” versus “po-tah-to”.

How Does this Impact the Social or Customer Experience?

Think about it. If one person has a positive experience or negative experience with your brand or even an indifferent experience, it can affect a broad spectrum of people you don’t even know about. The emotions you create in the customer are contagious and will directly and indirectly affect your brand and the perception of your brand in the social networks they inhabit. The danger is the subtlety of this kind of contagion; it works on the subconscious level for the most part. A silent agent of change if you will.

Where to next?

Is this a stepping stone or high level validation for group consciousness? Perhaps not but it makes you wonder if there is much more to be unearthed about how we are connected in ways that cannot be seen or heard. It certainly gives credibility to the notion of an unconscious group empathy buried just under our conscious perceptions but affecting us in real ways. I know what you’re feeling, i feel it to – it has suddenly become even more important to focus on being a positive emotional force with your customers. Telcos beware!

Net Promoter Scores are Passe; Try Net Feeling Scores on for Size!

The big measure of customer experience could switch from ‘Would you tell your friends about us” to “How can we make you feel fantastic” knowing that positive emotional virus will spread to everyone they are connected to in their social networks, both physical and digital. I never really liked net promoter scoring anyways, always too obvious. I mean how can you quantify emotions?? I always felt the answers for net promoter, much like boxing matches, were fixed from the beginning.

On the Book and the Authors

If you are in the communications or marketing business, this book is definitely worth the time. Even if you retain just a bit, the way you perceive customer experience or Social Media could shift dramatically. And it should.

The author, Dr. Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD is a highly accomplished Harvard Sociology Professor and Doctor who was recently named to the Times 100 most influential people. Co-author is James Fowler PhD noted Social scientist also at Harvard. You can follow them on Twitter here.

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