Upcoming Blog Topics – Brazil, Negotiation, and Air Travel


As we start a new year, I resolve to write more frequently – but make no promises!  I am literally brimming with ideas but no time to turn them into written words.   Over the Christmas break I was able to reflect a bit on some things experienced during my travels in the first part of December – keep an eye out for upcoming articles on the following topics:

  • Brazil Observations
    • Christmas in Sao Paulo
    • Sushi, Pizza, and Hot Wings
    • Orange Juice Prices
    • Expansion of consumer credit
  • Negotiating in a foreign country
    • Pick your battles
    • Recognize when you have no leverage
    • Be willing to barter
    • In most cases, A deal is better than NO deal
  •  The REAL problems with air travel – BOARDING
    • Carry-Ons vs Baggage Fees
    • Infrequent Flyers
    • Lack of Design Innovation

Thanks for you support – and keep on reading!

Be sure to Like, +1, Tweet, or Share my blog with others who care about the same things you do…

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The Case for Customer Lifetime Value…


Just when things were going great…

Not long ago, I praised a certain  Big Satellite Company  for the outstanding customer experience I had when moving across town (despite some other shortcomings – full article here).  This past month, with a single billing related event, Big Satellite Company almost destroyed our relationship forever.  Let me tell you a story.

Thirteen years ago

As cable TV was riding high and the internet was still a baby, I placed a bet on who I wanted to deliver television content to my home.  Primarily due to the exclusive availability of a certain sports programming package, my bet was placed on (what is now) Big Satellite Company.  For over a decade, through four moves in two states, my chosen television delivery partner provided a fantastic experience in all facets of our relationship, to include my most recent move (full article here).

This year, as a result of some uncertainty with the professional sports league featured in the programming package, Big Satellite Company made a wise move (in my opinion) by not automatically renewing customer subscriptions for this package until the leagues disputes were settled.  However, once resolved, subscribers like myself were forced to contact Big Satellite Company and re-subscribe to the package.  This was not the end of the world assuming I was able to simply renew the subscription, at the previously established renewal rate.

Herein lies the rub

As I prepared to renew the programming package, the pricing I was offered via the website was approximately $85.00 more than what I had paid for previous seasons.  I contacted the customer service center via telephone and was offered a statement credit of $5.00 per month for the next 12 months.  That still left us $25.00 apart from what I felt was fair.  As I was on the telephone, I looked into my account billing history, and proceeded to inform the service agent that as a 13-year subscriber, my customer lifetime value to date exceeded $23,000 and I asked her if she was prepared to let me walk over $25.00?  She responded with a counter offer of additional free services and content, and ultimately got us to where we were only $5.00 apart.  I asked again, are you ready to let me walk over $5.00?  She was.  At this point, I decided to perform an experiment by NOT asking for a supervisor and simply saying “no thank you”.

Everyone who heard this story said “you should have asked for a supervisor, you would have gotten what you wanted” – to this I say, the companies to which we send our hard-earned money in exchange for services, need to have more respect for their customers. The protocol for solving a customer problem should never end with the customer leaving.  I argue that the customer service agent should have proactively escalated me to a supervisor with more authority as opposed to letting me walk.  Most consumer technology services companies (i.e. phone, TV, internet) seem to be in a customer acquisition arms race, as opposed to focusing on serving the customers they already have.

So how does the story end?

Last week, approximately 3 weeks after the incident described above, I was contacted by a “manager” from Big Satellite Company who proceeded to offer me the desired programming package renewal, discounted beyond what I paid in the previous years, plus the additional services and content from the previous negotiation.  Apparently he is one guy who knows it is cheaper to keep a customer than acquire a new one – it’s a shame it took 3 weeks to escalate through the CRM system.  This could have easily been avoided if Big Satellite Company had a robust customer segmentation system and armed the customer service agents with a well thought out “next best offer” strategy for retention of key accounts – maybe even immediately pushing my call to a more senior or experienced agent given my tenure and status.

Have you had a similar experience?  Or is your company losing customers faster than you can acquire them?

Tell me about it.

Did you know that I have now posted more than 30 articles on this blog?  If you read and enjoy the content, please don’t be afraid to Comment, Share, Like, Tweet, +1, or whatever you do.  I would greatly appreciate the feedback.

What’s in your Marketing Kitchen?


Bakers, Chefs, or Cooks?  

I think we can all agree that each of these descriptions invoke a different image, expectation of skills,  and a perception of the experience they will deliver.  My wife is clearly a Baker, based on her use of recipes, measuring spoons, and timers, sprinkled with creativity [and powdered sugar].  Chefs are the people we see on TV, with all of their fancy schoolin’ and gastronomic techniques, but ironically, as they gain notoriety, most seem to spend less time in actual kitchens.  Generally speaking, Chefs and Bakers might both be considered the same, but working in different mediums.  Now, as a self-described Cook, I admit I may review several recipes (or pictures), see something on TV, or scan the pantry shelves and refrigerator taking a silent inventory.  But when the moment strikes, I just start start cooking, making adjustments along the way.

A dash of this, a pinch of that – VOILA – dinner is served!

The Marketing Kitchen

When it comes to working on the line in a Marketing Kitchen, the Bakers, Chefs, and Cooks are often at odds when it comes to deciding how to create an award-winning dish.  The Bakers want to plan for every scenario, test and re-test, and generally have 100% certainty of success before actually beginning.  The Chefs are a little more pragmatic, but tend to focus on the technical tasks of the project, resulting in an over-engineered solution.  The Chef often uses too many ingredients, too many techniques, and is over-ambitious as it relates to time lines [ever seen someone on TV try to make Risotto in 10 mins?].

While Cooks may not possess the exacting standards of a Baker, or the training and techniques of a Chef, we are often the x-factor in the Kitchen’s success.  The Cook’s ability to combine disparate ingredients, improvise kitchen tools and techniques, keep an eye on the clock, and take calculated risks, more often leads to a successful dish (and a happy diner).

This leads me to the conclusion that in today’s ever-evolving Marketing + Technology marketplace, we need more Cooks than Chefs or Bakers – except when it’s time for dessert.

Sweet.

Anyone out there suffer from Marketing Withdrawal?


It has been said that on a daily basis, American exposure rates to advertising and marketing messages in ranges from as low (low?) of 500 to several thousand and beyond depending on the source.  Most Americans have tuned out buzz and as a result most marketing messages are wasted.  However, in my case, as Marketer I pride myself on trying to be exposed to even more than the average bear so I can continue to build my body of knowledge and understanding of what is working and what is not.  I quickly, but carefully, look at each email, direct mail piece and banner ad presented to me.  I’m the kind of nerd that  likes sorting and taking inventory of my direct mail mail at home; this enables me to create an index or barometer of sorts in my mind about the state of marketing and more specifically consumer targeting and relevance in my small part of the world and for my “peeps” who share my demographic category – we typically receive multiple pieces for each category below in either CRM or prospecting efforts on a weekly basis:

  • financial services
  • automotive dealers and manufacturers
  • insurance companies
  • credit card offers
  • cable and satellite TV
  • real estate
  • travel
  • education and seminars
  • pool cleaners, landscapers
  • local restaurants and shops
  • home improvement mag-a-logs
  • mail order catalogs

You name it, we get it; the volume of mail ebbs and flows to a cadence I quickly would recognize.  I gleefully open and devour each one, thinking about the relevance, the creative and the offer presented.   Now that I have moved to a new house, our mailbox is very empty these days.   Since much of this mail is not sent First Class, it is not forwarded by the post office, and the mailer will have to wait until they process their file through the NCOA process to discover that I have moved.  The fact is, moving in to a new house costs money and advertisers are missing a key behavioral cue – when you move you need things and you are eager to spend on building the nest.  We also need to know who delivers take-out food here, where is the closest grocery, and where I will get my dry cleaning done.

You may have read on this blog the on-going saga related to my recent residential move and the customer service challenges we have faced with the various service providers for [Satellite TV] [DSL Internet] – the DSL situation was never resolved and I have since cancelled the service.  In trying to place an order for Cable Internet service there seems to be some complications there as well – more to come.  I thought we were becoming a service economy?  If so what happened to service? 

Anyway, as a result of no direct mail and no internet access at home (for nearly a month now) I must say that I am suffering from Marketing Withdrawal.  As a Marketer, I feed on marketing and rely on it to spark new ideas and thoughts.  Has anyone else suffered this condition?

You want it by when? OR Free beer tomorrow?


Recently I wrote about my experience [Spray and Pray is not a Customer Contact Strategy] when moving across town to a new house and the moving service provided by my satellite television company.  Now I am going to tell you a tale that will certainly shock and awe the reader…

You want it by when?

One week prior to moving day, I contacted my DSL provider to inform them of the new address and request a move of my service. At that time, I was told that “because of the various switches and networks in my city” that they could not simply move my service, rather they needed to disconnect at my current service address and then re-establish service at my new address.  As a former network engineer this seemed plausible (they recently merged/acquired a provider in my area), although in my opinion highly inexplicable, in today’s “wired world”.  I was given a date that the new service would be active and was instructed to call back if there were any issues on that date.   The date given was more than 2 weeks away.  Dumbfounded why it would take so long, I begrudgingly said thanks and decided to wait it out.  While I was away in Hong Kong  [Fortune Cookies],  my wife was in touch with the provider when the service did not work on the date promised.  This also meant no “iPhone FaceTime” while I was away which did not make my wife too happy.  We are now approaching 4 weeks without internet service at home and they have no-showed for each appointment (8 to noon window) we have been given on successive days going back to last week.  Have you ever seen a sign hanging over a bar that says “Free Beer Tomorrow”?  Yeah – it kinda feels like that.

The Silver Lining

Throughout this ordeal, we have had an outstanding customer service agent who has been chasing down supervisors, dispatchers, and installers to escalate my issue and try to get it resolved – so much so, that she provided her personal cell phone number so that we can reach her and keep her abreast of what is not happening.  She has provided a stellar example of how to be a customer advocate – too bad her company is failing her.  She is the only reason I am seeing this through and have not defected (yet).

So what is the moral of the story?

  1. Setting customer expectations then exceeding them should be your goal.
  2. Being responsive doesn’t mean making promises you can’t keep.
  3. Own your customer’s issues.
  4. Be a Customer Advocate and make every attempt to create a happy customer.

Tell me about your experience with customer service (good or bad) – Zappos and Apple aside, is great customer service really a thing of the past?

 

Fortune Cookies = Source of Great Advice For Business Developers


I recently returned home following a week in Hong Kong working with a new client.  While “that” part of the world is typically very different from what U.S. marketers are accustomed to, I was subtly reminded at the conclusion of a fantastic traditional dinner at The China Club that the philosophical waxings of fortune cookies are truly universal and still a great source of advice…

China Club, Hong Kong - Fortune Cookie

Image Property of Mark Donatelli - Taken with an iPhone 4

If the World is Flat, why do you need a Sherpa?


Flat Earth Sherpa

By now, I am sure you all have read The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman?  If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend you read it right away – it will change the way you think about the future that is already here.  With that said, the basic premise that I took away from the book in a single sentence is that technology has essentially “flattened” the  Earth by enabling real-time collaboration on a global basis. The concept of a small manufacturer in India, sourcing raw materials in China, perhaps on Alibaba, with funding via micro loan from the UK, and selling finished goods on eBay to an American consumer is now a reality.

This is where the irony enters.

This new flat Earth has been a tremendous enabler for small and medium-sized businesses, but has muddied the waters for much larger companies.  I spend a great deal of my time consulting with some of the world’s largest and most recognizable consumer brands, and for the most part these companies recognize and are actively trying to exploit this new flat Earth, but frankly they have no idea how to choose the best countries for expansion, how to maximize growth for those countries they are already in, and in either case, how to navigate the myriad of technology, data, cultural, legal and consumer privacy challenges.

Hence, the need for a Sherpa (hint: ME).

If your company or if you have a client that is facing these types of Global Expansion challenges in this new flat earth, please let me know – I can lead the way.

It has been a while since I have posted an article, and I certainly have no shortage of topics to write about; the fact remains that  I simply do not have enough time in the day.  And to add insult to injury, my travel schedule and client load keeps me flush with article ideas, but  no time to write about them.  I actually did some of the final editing for this post on my new iPhone 4 (more on that in future articles) while my son drank his milk and watched Little Einsteins from my lap!

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and keep your eyes open for a few rapid-fire posts over the next week or so – having not written in a while, they will be based on my travels and observations over the last couple of months.  Don’t forget to leave your comments and provide feedback.

Thank you for reading and Happy Hunting!

Restoring Faith in the Universe!


EarbudsEveryone has heard the expression “bad things happen to good people” and for about the millionth time in my life, I was thinking it to myself last week.  I was traveling on business (again) and in my typical, helpful fashion I was assisting an older woman lift her “way-too-large-to-be-a-carry-on” bag into the overhead compartment, and painfully watched in slow motion as one of the ear buds on my BlackBerry headset launched into the air and tumbled end-over-end into the darkness between 2 very large passengers seated below.  Rather than put myself in the middle of that mess and and hold up my fellow boarding passengers, I simply moved on, mumbling under my breath.  This meant that a) my in-flight music would not be in stereo  and b) the client call I had planned during my trek through the Atlanta airport would now carry a higher degree of difficulty given the background noise that can only be produced on a weekday morning in that mammoth airport.

Upon arriving in Atlanta, I made a beeline for one of those airport kiosks for a replacement, and found that the gentleman wanted $8.99 for a set of 5 pairs of different ear buds in multiple sizes, shapes and colors.  I told the guy I’d pass, and as I started to walk towards the newly opened Blackberry store across the way,  he called me back.  What happened next might go down in history as a business traveler miracle – wait for it – he reached into a drawer and pulled out a single pair of replacement ear buds, shrink-wrapped oem-style, and handed them to me with a smile and a Merry Christmas.  I patted his shoulder and said Merry Christmas to you too.

So carry on good people of the world – give and you shall receive!

So what does this have to do with marketing?

Take your pick – whether it is asking for permission to market to your customers or resolving client complaints without them going ape-crazy on you first – do the right thing and it comes back to you!  I promise.

What do you think?

 

What’s worse? ‘Kids Today’ or Client Expectations?


 

Little Rock Arkansas

Image compliments of Little Rock Beautiful Comission

 

I know I have not posted lately, but I have been traveling a lot.  As a matter of fact, I just returned home from Little Rock, Arkansas and my trip, as well as a brief conversation with some strangers on the last night, were the catalysts I needed to write this! 

My last night in town it was raining, and as I made way back to The Peabody,  I was ducking (no pun intended) under storefront awnings and doorways to avoid getting drenched.  I was half way to the hotel and as I popped into a doorway, there were a couple of “dudes” in their early twenties standing there.   Small talk ensued, mostly with the shorter one.  They appeared to be a gang of two; the shorter one did all of the talking and the other always looked at the leader before speaking when he did.  The leader asked me what I did for a living.  At the risk of confusing them (sometimes it is not crystal clear even to me), I simply said ‘I’m a consultant”.  He followed with “What’s that?” and I told him “I give people my opinion”.   Now the quiet one pipes up and asks “You can get paid for that?!” with his eyes wide open.  Now the simple conversation turned into more of a Magic 8 Ball session – they asked me about all of the secrets of the universe, as if I were the Dhali Lamba himself.  The last question came – “How much money can you make buying stocks?” he asks.  I tried to explain it was a matter of the amount invested, the stock, and the time period – but mostly luck.  The short one said “How much can I make if I buy $1,000 in stock?” – “It depends” I say, “But it wouldn’t be hard to get 10% in return over some time period”.  He then asks “How much is that?”. 

As I dash into the rain, running from the fear that I would get dumber if I stood there any longer, I was thinking to myself what every generation before me has thought, “What is it with kids today?”.  

This brings me to wondering what’s worse – “kids today” or client expectations?  Let me explain. 

Stethoscope

Image compliments of the Fordham University Blog

 

On a regular basis, I work with many of the most sophisticated and successful companies in the world, and I am amazed at how often they come to my company with a sincere desire to improve what they’re doing, yet when we ask them direct questions about their business challenges and other details that are variables that will dramatically affect our ability to help them, not to mention our price, they refuse to answer.  They just keep asking us “When can you provide a solution and how much will it cost?”  That’s like going to a doctor and telling her you that don’t feel well, but then not answering any of her questions about your symptoms or letting her examine you.

How can we prescribe a solution if you don’t describe the symptom?

Not sure which is worse – what do you think?

Vampires, Werewolves, and Targeting Consumers


No, I’m not that obvious. I can hear you thinking now, “Duh – Everyone knows that Vampires and Werewolves have been pursing people (read: target consumers) for centuries!” While true, that is not where I was going. I am referring more to the phenomenonal resurgence of these monster movie legends in pop culture today. Not only is it mainstream in the form of the Twilight saga, but with TrueBlood and scores of similiar shows. This is way bigger than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Boris Karloff, or Tom Cruise could have ever imagined!

Then this past year, Werewolves were suddenly in the mix. Seemed like a “twist” to me, but for those that follow the ways of these creatures, apparently they often coexist and crosss paths; huh, who’da thunk it? All it took was one of the current reigning Vampire franchises to take the lead and everyone followed. So now you're asking yourself "So what?" and "What does this have to do with marketing and targeting consumers?”. The fact is that all of the movie companies, book publishers, toy manufacturers, you-name-it suppliers of whatever recognized a behavior and interest trend in the marketplace and are now riding the wave made up simply of like minded consumers. Just yesterday I was flipping though my 3 ba-zillion channels (and nothing is on) and ran across that movie from 1991 called “Silver Bullet” with Corey Haim and Gary Busey (it was a much better life for those 2 back then!) – it’s about a wheelchair bound kid who confronts the town Werewolf. Even old “products” get a boost when you have identifed the right audience.

So am I saying you should try to recognize the next cattle herd moment for marketing success? No – I am suggesting that you closely examine the behaviors and characteristics of your current clients. That could mean using Google Analytics on your website to capture browsing habits and click-through patterns. Or as previously discussed, it could mean looking at your clents purchase history and habits with you in terms of RFM (Recency Frequency Monetary) or even by enhancing your customer data with demographics or proprietary lifestage and lifestyle segmentation systems.

I look forward to your comments. If you would like to discuss any of these methods and how they can improve your marketing performance please contact me directly.

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