Customer Trust

Storytelling Is Really the Only Marketing

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Maybe the inverse of my title is more true:  if you’re not telling a story, you’re not really marketing.  As marketers, we’ve all spent plenty of time analyzing features and benefits of our offerings, figuring out just the right messaging and discovering the right ways to talk to our prospects and customers.

In more recent years, notably with the rise of online marketing of every sort, we’ve started talking about conversations, storytelling, and how to engage our prospective customers and build relationships.  This is also an important part of marketing work.

But no matter what you sell and no matter what audience you want to engage, if you’re not telling them a good story and engaging them with that story, you’re not going to garner much interest.

Why Storytelling Matters

Kathy Klotz-Guest, CEO of Keeping It Human, (also a friend and sometime MENG speaker) recently released a book, Stop Boring Me! How to Create Kick-Ass Marketing Content, Products and Ideas Through the Power of Improv, based on her years as an improvisational actor, then as a storytelling marketing adviser to Silicon Valley businesses.  Her premise is that all business is human (also the premise of my work, which is one reason I admire her!).

Kathy cites marketing professor and author Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University, who notes that people remember stories as much as twenty-two times more than they do facts alone


You should be.  If you’re “talking” to your prospects by showing them features and benefits, and your competitors are telling engaging stories, it might explain why you’re having trouble with your conversion rates.

One of the most important pieces of advice Kathy offers is that marketing is about change, as are stories.  If you help your prospect see and understand the possibilities and how to change to realize them, you have a far better opportunity to engage and, eventually, sell to that prospect.

How do I do that?

Three Steps to Better Storytelling

Like me, you’ve probably heard that advice from way too many marketers and so-called experts. But doing it seems to escape you.  Here’s one person doing it well every single day.  Megan DeGruttola heads storytelling and content marketing for Stitch Labs and uses these three guideposts to create a story:

1.  Know your audience

Who is the person you want to hear your story?   What interests them?  Why is your story going to matter to them?  This is nothing more than knowing your target audience but in a much more human way.

2.  Understand their problems and aspirations 

This is not about the problems you think they should have (sorry, we’re marketers, you know you think that way even though you shouldn’t).  Make certain you are addressing the problems that person faces in their daily life.  Maybe it’s something that frustrates them endlessly or maybe it’s something they never thought they could solve.

Then make sure you know their aspirations.  What do they want to change?  What do they hope to become?  How, very specifically, do they think they can get there―and how can you help them?

3.  Take them on a journey 

Show them where they are and make clear the problems.  Show them the way forward to achieving their aspirations.  In other words, tell a powerful story.

Remember, journeys are never a single step, and they are fraught with setbacks. Don’t forget that your story shouldn’t be a carefree romp to the finish line. It should be an honest and credible account of the challenges and motivations that keep the story going.

Are you worried you don’t tell good stories (it’s the worry I hear most often from marketers about storytelling)?  Don’t worry.  You do.  Ask your family or friends.  At least some of them love your storytelling.  Go find out why and use those strengths to get better.

And as with everything else in marketing, keep trying and experimenting.  You’ll get to what gives you and your company that twenty-two times engagement multiplier.

Then tell us the story of how you did it in the comments!


Customer Success

Want to Avoid Customer Rejection? Here’s How NOT To

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Here’s a lesson on how to create customer rejection in 30 minutes or less.

I heard a story from a friend today.  She bought what she hoped would be a useful and productive accessory for one of her tech devices.  Nothing fancy, just one of those things that makes your device go from “pretty useful” to “part of my everyday work.”

I can safely say she will avoid doing business in the future with the company that made the device.  And I’ll bet she’ll happily tell all her friends (as she told me) about how well they knew the art of customer rejection.  I can’t tell you how many potential customers this company lost today, but I know of two, and based on her influence circle, I’ll bet that’s a few orders of magnitude off.

It turned out this effort by the company to lose customers was pretty simple.  They spent a total of half an hour of work on it.  The customer rejection professional involved (maybe in charge of this particular effort?) was efficient, effective, and, I’d bet, well-rewarded for his or her efforts.

In fact, if your company is looking to lose some customers fast, I’d try to hire this customer rejection expert ASAP.

The whole thing was pretty simple.  When my friend received the product, it was broken and did not work.  She wanted it replaced; I’m pretty sure I would have, as well.  She emailed them. They asked for pictures.  She sent them.  They asked her to call.  She spent half an hour on the phone with the very competent customer-rejection professional who told her the replacement was out of stock and could not be sent.  Going above and beyond their duty, the same customer rejection professional added that no advance order could be placed for the item to ensure it would be sent when it was back in stock.  The apology acting, I’m told, was extraordinary (maybe the customer rejection professional also is an aspiring actor?).

My friend tried to respond to the company’s email, but the email message bounced. In the bounce message, she was directed to a web page to file a complaint, but the web page produced errors that could not be deciphered (Note to web professionals: If you want to contact the company to help resolve this, remember that is at cross-purposes with the responsibilities of the customer-rejection team).

My friend now has a broken product.  The company that sold it to her thinks this is as it should be.

I’d call this an example to follow of how to lose customers in half an hour or less. Customer-rejection professionals: are you listening?


Rethinking Customer Marketing for the Subscription Economy

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This is not your grandfather’s customer marketing.  A business that depends on—or hopes to depend on—subscription (or recurring) revenue must relate to its customers in a fundamentally different way than a traditional one-time-sale business.  But the changes go deeper than just the customer relationship. To be successful in a subscription business, companies must rethink their own business operations.  Let’s take a look at what that means for marketing.

The question I ask you is simple:  are you actually marketing to your customers?  Or are you just keeping in touch and hoping they’ll stick around?

Customer marketing is one of the simplest business changes you can make to succeed in the recurring revenue business.  You don’t need any new skills or expertise, and the processes you need already exist (I hope) in your current organization.  The work you need to do is translating them to apply to your current customers.

The Journey and the Funnel

You have, undoubtedly, spent much of your marketing career thinking about—and seeing many different flavors of—the marketing funnel.  I’m going to guess your idea of a marketing funnel or customer journey looks something like this:

This gives your marketing organization a good working model and, I hope, a deep understanding of how someone in the market becomes aware of your product or service and how they get from initial awareness to making the decision to purchase.

You also have a set of processes and practices that make your marketing work, make potential customers aware of your offerings and help them make the decision to purchase. These include marketing campaigns and programs, content development and distribution, branding efforts, and much more.

I hope in reading this so far, you’re thinking:  “Yes, I do all of that really well.  Why do I need to rethink this?”

Customer Marketing:  Before

You might have a function in your marketing organization called customer marketing. Depending on how you’ve organized your team, this function does anything and everything from customer references, to success stories, to customer events and conferences, and to customer loyalty programs.  You probably also have a way to keep customers informed of new products, updates, and other information you consider important, or that you think will help customers decide to buy from you again.

Rethinking from Day One

Day One is the day your customer becomes your customer, the day after the contract is signed, the day the customer starts getting value from your product or service.

It’s also the day your sales and marketing organizations step out of the picture and hand that customer off to your customer success organization.  Every day from then until the customer leaves you, the primary contact for that customer will be in your customer success organization.  That organization is then tasked (maybe via its own sales team) with ensuring your customer renews their subscription or comes back to you year after year.

In a recurring revenue business, the repeat or renewal sale is just as important as the initial sale.  Sometimes, we assume this sale is easier because we’re dealing with a customer who has already decided they get value from our offering.  That makes it no less important.

Rethinking customer marketing means treating your new actual customer on Day One just like the new potential customer who has only just become aware of your offering.  Day One begins a whole new marketing and sales cycle.  Day One means building a whole new relationship with your customer.

Customer Marketing:  After

The goal is simple:  keep as many customers as you can.

The process is simple:  apply your current marketing funnel or journey, programs, and processes to your current customers.

The transition is not so simple:  learn how your customers go from new customers on Day One to a renewal sale.  Then how they do that again next year.  And again the following year.

The transition requires you to examine both your business and your customers in new ways. You need to ask:

  • Why do my customers renew (not your long held beliefs; look at the data), why don’t they, and how do I tell the difference between customers who renew and customers who don’t?
  • What actions do I take right now that make a difference (again, based on the data) in whether customers renew?
  • How am I helping my customers realize value and renew?
  • Are my internal incentives (marketing, sales, and customer success) aligned with a goal of maximizing renewals?

Then you need to redefine your customer funnel or journey. It will look something like this:

Then you need to design marketing and sales programs, campaigns, and other efforts around that to help your customers move from purchase to renewal (not to frustration and departure).

Organizations that do this successfully create a microcosm of a marketing team within the customer success organization.  This becomes a team that is charged with the full range of marketing and marketing operations functions (except corporate branding and PR, generally), and is measured on the same goals and outcomes as the marketing organization such as leads (which become expansion or adoption programs), conversions to sales (which become integration and realization of value), and sales (which become renewals).

Transformation to Customer Marketing

Rethinking customer marketing as though it were a full marketing function changes the way you relate to your customers.  It can also have dramatic effects on the success of your renewal programs, bringing your renewal rates to new heights and your churn rates to new lows.

And, if you are having great conversations with potential customers in your market, imagine how valuable those conversations will be once your current customers—your loyal fans—are part of them.

How is your organization evolving customer marketing?  Tell us in the comments!

Customer Success

Customer Service Success Is So Simple that It’s Hard

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We all love to complain about customer service.  Most of us have some sort of nightmare story at the ready anytime the conversation turns to the topic of customer service.  And collectively, we have classes of companies we just love to hate:  airlines and cable providers.

I know you can tell any number of stories about how some company (Comcast, anyone?) got it wrong (check out Mr. A**hole Brown has a really good one post).  I’m willing to bet you even have a few choice suggestions on how to get it right.

But your suggestions will likely only fix the issue in your case (or your type of case).  The company that is failing at customer service has a much deeper problem.

The issue is simple:  lack of empathy.  But the solution, which is also so simple—create empathy in your customer service staff for customer service success—is, in fact, very hard to make happen.

Why Is It Hard To Achieve Customer Service Success?

Allow me to start with an idea that will sound familiar from my earlier posts:  When someone buys a product or service from you, they are doing so because they expect that product or service to do a specific job for them.  Sticking with my favorite scapegoat, when someone buys cable television service from Comcast, they are expecting Comcast to deliver entertainment on which they can rely at all hours.

Here’s where it gets complicated (frankly, it’s not really all that complicated for Comcast, but it is for most companies).  The definition of “entertainment” varies widely among the millions of people who are Comcast customers.  Personally, I want my cable company to bring me intelligent, unbiased, detailed news coverage any time of day (largely the responsibility of the news outlets and not even within the control of a cable provider).  Or you might want access to a huge library of foreign films.  Someone else might want endless reruns of TV shows from the 1970s.

Sounds pretty simple for a cable provider, right?  So where do they go so wrong?

Customer service doesn’t happen until something goes wrong.  Service is out.  Channels with my entertainment disappear, or worse, move to a higher tier of premium cost.  Or the CableCARD stops working with the latest update of my DVR.

Then I have to call (chat, e-mail, whatever).  Someone explains the process of why it’s broken.  Then they explain the process the company has set up to fix it.  It’s going to take time.  It’s going to cost me money.  It’s going to require that I sit at home and wait for someone to show up.

There’s a lot of process.  There’s a way to handle the situation.  But there’s no empathy. There’s no one who is capable of understanding why I am actually disappointed and figuring out the best (maybe even the right) way to make sure I get what I need.

Empathy is not a process.  It’s not a set of rules.  It’s not a policy.  It is a human ability. And it requires the one thing the giant customer service organization fears most:  individual freedom to act.

Halfway There

I have a lot of respect for Frank Eliason.  If you don’t know who he is, he is the guy who started @ComcastCares, Comcast’s Twitter based customer service.  It’s generally believed that he singlehandedly taught the corporate world what social customer service means.

Frank recently wrote an article exhorting Comcast to improve its customer service.  He included five suggestions on what they could do to improve.  The last of these was, “Live up to being the Philadelphian that you already are.  We will support you, but you need to support us too.  Treat us in the same manner you would want to be treated.”

I don’t disagree with his first four suggestions.  But they are all process improvement ideas. They don’t do anything at all to get your customer service staff to understand your customers’ problems and help bring solutions that address the actual issues right there and then.

The fifth suggestion (quoted above) gets closer to the mark.  It doesn’t say it the way I would, but it suggests that each and every customer service representative needs to be a decent upstanding human to create successful customer service.  That sounds a bit like empathy to me.

Getting it Right? 

It is nearly impossible to train empathy into an organization.  It’s a uniquely individual skill. People can have empathy, while organizations can’t.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t let your customer service people use the empathy they already have.

Companies such as Nordstrom and Zappos became customer service success standouts for one reason:  every single employee can do (nearly) anything to solve a customer’s problem.  On the margin, this led to stories (unconfirmed) of things such as a customer returning a set of tires to Nordstrom (which has never sold tires), but these stories are a very small group of exceptions to the rule.

The policy of “do whatever it takes to make it right” doesn’t just let the front line employee use their skill and empathy; it challenges them to do so.  Even better, it challenges them to create a story in that customer’s mind about how amazing the customer service provided by that employee was. And it creates a culture that makes employees want to be better at serving customers with empathy because their peers are also doing it.

These companies don’t train an organization to deliver empathy.  They created a culture of customer service success that valued it, paid attention to it in hiring, and challenged their people to do it—and do it better.  This requires trust (often anathema to many large hierarchical corporations) as well as a different approach to dealing with your own people and your customers.

Can You Change?

The obvious question is can a company such as Comcast really change?  Could it ever figure out how to change from a policy- and practice-driven organization to one that lets their people make their own judgments about what is the best practice in every individual situation?

It would be hard.  And it would take time.  Maybe for Comcast, their newly hired chief customer officer will be a start.

What about your organization?  Are you telling your people how to solve your customers’ problems?  Or are you hiring amazing people and letting them figure it out?  If you are the former, can you change?  Do you think your organization can help your people develop empathy?

Customer service success is so simple that it’s hard.

Tell us in the comments how you think your organization might do it.


Requiem for the Home Page: Rethinking Website Architecture

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The Home Page is dead!  Long live the Home Page!  That might be overstating it a bit, but it’s well past time to rethink our approach to website architecture.

Evolving Website Architecture

I’ve been involved in website architecture, design, redesign, and rebuilding projects in various ways during the past decade.  In this time, nearly everything has changed about how companies communicate with customers and prospects.  We’ve become comfortable with email as a marketing tool—in fact, we’ve become pretty good at it.  Printed mail certainly has not gone away (judging by my mailbox this week), but we’ve found effective ways to replace some printed media and blend print and email.

We’ve become social.  Do you remember your social media presence in 2004?  I’m guessing not, primarily because you didn’t have one.  Twitter didn’t exist, and Facebook was the cool new thing on Harvard’s campus.  Now, most companies have some sort of social media presence, and the ones that are doing it well are integrating social media directly into their communication with prospects and customers.

In 2004, even search marketing (both SEO and SEM) were hardly in use.  We were still figuring out how that worked, which gave rise to the seemingly endless supply of people who spend their time trying to outwit Google’s search algorithm (and Bing’s and Yahoo’s and…).

But in the same decade that saw the creation and explosion of email, search marketing, and social media, website architecture has been virtually unchanged.  We still build websites in the same traditional structure as we did in the late 1990s:  We start with a home page that summarizes our company and brand message, include a hierarchy of pages (products, solutions, about us, careers…sound familiar?) that describe everything we want visitors to see when they show up.

We’ve seen tremendous advances in website design:  from the “above-the-fold” designs of the 2000s to the current trend of responsive, parallax, and endlessly scrolling websites designed for the ever increasing number of devices we use to visit these sites.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I tend to focus not on what your company wants to say but what your prospects and customers want to hear—and how they want to hear it.

Looking at it from that perspective, we’ve learned one very important lesson in the past decade about how visitors, prospects, and customers use our website:  People come to the site looking for something.  They want to go directly to whatever that particular thing is on our site and skip all the other stuff.

Some visitors take advantage of the hierarchical structure of the site to find what they need.  Many, many more come in directly to some specific page on our site as the result of a Google search. Many come to our site as a result of an email or social media campaign directing them to a landing page.  And some come to a specific page on our site through referral (a link sent to them, posted somewhere, etc.) or other various means.

We even spend time designing click paths through our websites both to serve specific kinds of visitors and to encourage them to take actions we design.

Improving Website Architecture

This means the way we build websites has no relationship whatsoever to how visitors use them.

What can we do differently?

A modest proposal:  Outside–in architecture.

Let’s go back to that idea of click paths.  We know how to do that (at least some do, and most of the rest of the marketing world is learning).  We also know that pretty much every single person who visits our website will have a click path that is unique to them and serves well the visitor profile (or persona) they fit.

My proposal:  Build for that.

Take the personas (or whatever method you use for profiling visitor needs) and the click paths and needs you’ve already figured out.  Build those pages.  Put the right information, content, and calls-to-action on those pages that lead where you think that person wants to go.

Then do it with every single profile/persona you have built (and maybe a few on the edge that don’t visit as often).

Then you will have a jumble of pages that meet defined click paths.

Every single one of those journeys through your site starts with some inquiry, and most (we hope) end in some action, even if it’s just reading information.

Arrange your starting points in a circle (conceptually or on your design board).  Lay out the paths moving toward the center of that circle.  They will overlap.  Some will spiral.  Some will go straight to the center.  Some will stop halfway.

But you will find significant overlap among your paths.  Many different kinds of visitors need the same information at different points in their journey through your site.

Each of those landing pages and stopping points becomes a page.  If you’ve taken into account all the types of visitors who come to your site (don’t forget job seekers, investors, researchers, etc.), then you’ll also find you’ve included all the information you need.  And anything that is not there, by definition, is not needed by your visitors and does not need to be on your website.

We know where our visitors land or start.  We have a pretty good idea of where they go and how they get there.  Why not build  our websites around that journey and make it easy for them to get there and engage with us they way they want to—and, ultimately, the way we want them to.

What do you think?  Have you done this?  Have you taken an unconventional approach to website architecture?  Tell us in the comments!

Customer Success

Four Steps to Fixing Your Biggest Customer Service Mistake

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There’s one big mistake you can make in your customer service, and, if you’ve read my earlier posts, you know this is a pet peeve of mine:  Letting your process and policies govern how you deal with people.

This often happens even in the best customer service organizations.  In fact, this one mistake can sour great service more often in companies already known for great customer service than in ones where there is little or no customer service in the first place (though sometimes this is true because there is no service to sour in the latter set of companies!).

My Customer Service Experience

Here’s what one recent experience I had looked like:

My computer (partially) died.  It could do a few simple things, but it was useless for anything significant and pretty much stopped all my work and productivity.  My computer is from a company known for great customer service.  So I called.

They sent a technician to my office the next business day with a replacement part.  He opened up the computer, did his work, and left in less than an hour.  I was thrilled.

The people were helpful and friendly, the service was quick and personalized, and what could have been a lengthy loss of time and work for me turned into a quick repair without my ever leaving the office

Then things went sour.  It turns out there were two parts that needed to be replaced, and the technician didn’t know this.  But the company acted quickly, and the next day he was back replacing the second part, avoiding a potentially poor customer service outcome.

But while the technician was working on the second part, he broke an even more critical part.  He then spent two more hours in my office trying desperately—and unsuccessfully—to fix it.

So, again, I called.  The customer service department wanted to send him out a third time with a replacement for the broken part.  This was just a bit too intrusive for me.  The next best offer from customer service was for me to ship my entire computer to them—and be without it for 10 days.

Yes, there’s a lot of drama behind this story.  But the point is that it started out as a fantastic experience based on a set of customer service policy rules that allows the company to provide me with great initial service.  Then it turns quickly sour because the same set of policy rules which are intended to make the service great end up creating more pain for the customer.

And yes, you’ve done this to your customers.  I don’t know if you do it all the time, but I’m sure it’s happened.  And I’m sure you looked at how it happened and decided that the policies in place were really best overall and that the particular case was unusual.  But we’re all the unusual case.

How do you redesign your customer service policies to delight your customers─and keep delighting them even if things go wrong?

Develop People Centered Customer Service

Most customer service processes are designed to keep interactions short, solve problems quickly, and get cases closed as fast as possible.

People centered customer service does not lengthen the process.  Rather, it changes the policies and procedures so they work around how your customer works and what is happening to them.

Sometimes changing this focus is easy.  Car dealership service departments have been notoriously customer hostile, and they take your car (usually your primary mode of transportation) away for some inconveniently long period of time.  The key issue is that the car owner’s life revolves around his or her car, and loss of the car is a pretty big deal.

The solution to that, at least for some dealerships, was to set aside a fleet of loaner cars. Now, for some cars, when you take your car in for service, you drive away in a loaner car (if yours is like mine, a newer and nicer car than yours!) which you use until your car is fixed. Transportation problem and intrusiveness problems solved.

In my computer situation, the company was so focused on getting quick, personal (on-site) repairs scheduled, that they lost site of why it is an issue for me.  They forgot that my primary means of working is my computer.  They forgot that sending someone to my office to fix it is intrusive.  They forgot that every time they do a repair, I then have no computer for ten to twelve hours while my backup restores.

There was no process in place to allow the company to ask whether one more day, one more on-site visit, or one more restore would be just too much for me (The end of the story and the right answer is that they are sending a new computer but only after way too many hours on the phone arguing).

How do you implement people centered customer service in your organization?  Here are four steps:

1.)  Develop a model that helps you understand your customer’s life surrounding your products.

You might already do this to some extent for your marketing efforts.  And if you have lots of different kinds of customers who use your products in different ways, you will have to develop something such as marketing personas for describing the various situations.

Your model needs to ask questions such as:  How does this customer use the product?  How critical is the product to their work or life?  What will happen in the customer’s life if he or she is without the product for a period of time?

2.)  Develop your service, support, and repair procedures to fit the scenario this customer faces.

Ask questions such as:  How much are you requiring the customer to do on their own?  Can they do it, and do they have the skills?  Is it best for them to do it themselves?  How much can you do for them without intruding on their routine?  How can you choose routes to the solution that fix the problem effectively but minimize how much it affects the customer?

3.)  Ask.

Before you insist that there is a defined next step in solving the problem, ask the customer if that next step is reasonable.  Taking the same step three or four times may seem right to you, but it might not work for your customer.

4.)  Consider the context and what came before.

When you offer a next step in a solution, look at what came before.   Have you put the customer through significant burdens in the previous steps?  Are you asking them to accept the same burden one more time?  Your process and policies need to consider that when the problem is not solved on the first try, the tolerance of the customer is often challenged in subsequent attempts.

Don’t forget that this applies not only to previous attempts to solve the issue at hand but also to how you handled issues in the past.  If you need to ask the customer to do some work to resolve the issue, you need to know if this is the fifth time in six months you are asking.

Make sure your process allows for escalation and severity increases that go along with failures to fix the issue.

If you can design those four steps into your customer policies and processes, you will go a long way to making your customers happy—and keeping them happy.

And we know that a recurring or repeat customer is the most profitable of all.

Let us know how you are making your customer service people centric.

Customer Success

How Do You Define Customer Success?

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Customer success is a very hot topic (rightfully so).  With the rise of the subscription economy, companies are more obligated than ever to make sure their customers are happy with their products and services.  Companies from to Dollar Shave Club are adding “customer success’ departments (or the like), appointing chief customer officers and finally paying attention to what happens after the initial sale.

But what constitutes “customer success?”  Regardless of your business, it’s a hard question to answer.  For a company such as, one customer might be successful if they use the software to track and report on sales reps, but another might be successful if they can establish and enforce a sales process.  For a company such as Dollar Shave Club, a customer might be successful if they get a close shave from the razor blades, while a different customer might be very happy as long as the blades are delivered on time.

Not My Definition of Customer Success

Here’s a personal story of how a large subscription economy company failed to understand customer success:

A few weeks ago, I was watching television one evening.  The picture became pixilated and then disappeared, leaving me staring at a blank screen (Have you guessed that I’m going to pick on my favorite target:  my cable television provider?). After ruling out all the other equipment in my home, I determined the CableCARD device that my cable company provides was malfunctioning (A CableCARD allows a third-party device to decode the encrypted signal sent by the cable company, meaning you don’t need extra boxes in your house…sometimes.).

When I called the cable company’s “customer success” line, they walked through it with me again and agreed with my conclusion:  the problem was with the CableCARD.  They said they would send a technician to install a new one in three days.

Three days (!) seemed a long time to wait just to be able to watch television again.  When I challenged this, I was told:

This is not a priority issue.  We are successfully delivering a signal to your home, and a malfunctioning CableCARD is not important enough for us to send someone tonight or tomorrow.

I reiterated that I felt they were leaving me without their service for three days, and that this is a failure to deliver the service promised.  They reiterated:

We are successfully delivering signal to your home, so we are successfully providing service.”

Our definitions of “success” did not match.  Theirs was “signal on the cable wire,” while mine was “seeing a picture on my television” (I’ll spare you the rest of the argument; it didn’t go well from my perspective.).  Maybe there are other customers who use their signal differently and who consider “signal on the wire” to be success, regardless of whether their TV is watchable.  Not I.

As I reflected on this discussion, I thought about all the other companies that fail to make sure I am using their service successfully, and only focus on the limited set of issues they choose to define as success.

recent study showed that 53% of Americans would choose to switch cable providers if they had the choice (cable television service is a monopoly in many parts of the country).  If the monopoly is broken, it does not bode well for these providers.  Not only does it mean customers will be looking to leave and take their recurring revenue elsewhere, but it opens the market for disruptive competitors who may be more than happy to meet the needs that the current providers are not meeting.

The important question for your business is this:

Do you know how your customers define “success”?

If you don’t know that, you can’t help your customers be successful. And their definition is the only one that matters (cable companies, be damned).

An Approach to Customer Success

One company that is making a good effort at answering this question is Contactually (a social CRM product I use in my own work).  Susan Watkins, their newly appointed head of customer success, tells me that when a customer shows up, Contactually contacts the customer and offers to help them get started, including personal tutorials on how to do the things the customer hopes to do with the product.

In that process, they discover how the customer intends to use Contactually—and how the customer defines success.  When renewal time comes, they can then contact the customer and, instead of just asking for a renewal, ask how they are doing against that definition of success and how Contactually can help them be more successful.

Their data is not in yet, but I’ve seen this approach reduce churn by 5% to 10% in other companies.

In the subscription economy, if you don’t help make your customers successful—by their definition—you won’t be in business for long.

Post a comment and tell us how you figure out how your customers define success.



Escape Social Media FOMO: Ask the One Right Question

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If your company or brand is trying to have a presence in every social media outlet possible, you might have social media FOMO (fear of missing out). But fear not, there is a cure, and unlike consumer FOMO, you don’t need to stop marketing completely.

“Don’t I have to be on every social media outlet? How will I find my prospects and customers?”

If you’re asking this question, you probably already have FOMO. You can escape FOMO with one simple question:

“Is this the media in which my prospects prefer to establish relationships?”

EAT24, in what is now a well-publicized move (much to their benefit), recently broke up with Facebook. If you haven’t done so already, you should read their tongue-in-cheek-but-entirely-serious rationale, as well as FaceBook’s response.

What they really are saying is they don’t believe social media (specifically FaceBook, but this applies to any social media) is about blasting out ads to their fan base. Rather, it is about establishing relationships and raving fans. They conclude, given that FaceBook allows them very limited organic reach, they cannot succeed in engaging their fans and building relationships (even those based on sushi porn) in this particular media.

Will this cost them exposure? Yes. And while I have no inside knowledge of their media strategy, it’s easy to conclude there are other media which are more effective for their prospects.

They could buy more exposure on FaceBook, but it’s also obvious that the amount and depth of engagement is simply not worth it — there are better places to spend that marketing budget.

Applying the test above, it becomes clear their customers and prospects don’t really prefer to build relationships on FaceBook, so it’s not worth spending the time and money.

In another recent high-profile move, OKCupid strongly urged its customers not to use the Firefox web browser on their site, due to the homophobia of Brendan Eich, the now-former head of Mozilla, the organization that publishes Firefox. Given Firefox’s 10.5% market share (source: April 2, 2014), this could be a risky move.

Firefox isn’t a social medium, but it is an important means of accessing OKCupid’s services (and every other service online). OKCupid is making two statements with this action: 1) their customers and prospects care about equality and will act on that belief, and 2) it’s easy to engage with them using another browser (Chrome, Safari, etc.).

Applying the test above, OKCupid clearly believes that once the information about Eich’s homophobia is known, Firefox is not where its prospect and customers will prefer to engage, so it does not feel the need to be easily available in every browser.

Back to your brand: How much time and effort are you investing in making sure you are available everywhere — on every browser, every social media outlet and everywhere else? Are these time and budget investments well-spent? Do they have the expected or needed ROI?

You know who your customers are. You know which prospects you are trying to target. Make sure you’re spending your time and money doing what they need you to do to build those relationships.

So before making an investment in a new media outlet, ask yourself: Is this the medium in which my prospects prefer to establish relationships?

It’s a surefire cure for your FOMO.


Choosing the Right Way to be Transparent

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We hear about transparency every day. We are told that, in a world where everything is exposed in media (mostly social media), it’s far better to be transparent than to try to hide blemishes, problems and defects in the hope that they’ll go away or, at least, not be discovered until we fix them. Marketing blogs and publications are filled with disaster stories about companies that have chosen not to be transparent, and success stories of companies that have chosen transparency.

But just like in our personal lives, we have to choose the right level of transparency, and we have to choose the topics on which we will be transparent.

Here’s a great example:

In November, I wrote about Buffer, a tech start-up that put transparency on top of their values list. Not only do they talk about nearly everything internally (including personal goals, such as education and weight-loss), but they publish many of their results, such as their customer success metrics, externally for the world to see.

Since then, they have become even more transparent, releasing more and more information publicly. Two of the ways they have done this have produced very different outcomes. Let’s take a closer look.

A Transparency Tempest in a Teapot

In December, Buffer decided to make public all the salaries of all their employees, including the formulas they use to determine these salaries.

This produced a small tempest in social media: Some praised their transparency, and others chided them for releasing personal information about their employees, or for creating potential envy and dissatisfaction in their ranks.

The question I asked was this: How does this disclosure benefit the customer (or any other constituent)? The answer is simple: It doesn’t. Granted, it does no harm, but it adds no benefit either.

This is a case of transparency for transparency’s sake. Some have made the argument that disclosing this information is consistent with Buffer’s culture, so it enhances their reputation and brand. I disagree. Disclosure is a choice, and we can always find something they are not telling us (they can’t possibly think of everything!), and this choice does not add value to the most important audience of all: their customers.

A Slippery Slope

Buffer’s chief happiness officer, Carolyn Kopprasch, also publishes a monthly report on their customer success efforts. One element of this report shows how quickly Buffer responds to customer inquiries, tech-support requests and the like (they state that 85% of requests are answered in less than six hours, though they’re not quite there yet).

This does add some value to their customers (including me) in that it shows what I can expect in terms of response to my requests, as well as how well they are doing with all the issues brought to them.

To be clear, I think this disclosure is useful and valuable. But it also creates a potentially slippery slope.

Not long ago, I sent in a tech-support request and waited four days for a response. This is not typical of Buffer support nor of my experience. It left me asking about the distribution of response times. Specifically, Buffer publishes the percentage of responses in one and six hours, but how often does it take a day? Two day? Four days? Was my response in the bottom 10%? 1%? 0.001%?

Which then led to the logical next question: Since we know not all requests are of equal importance or urgency, and Buffer’s resources are limited, how do they make the triage decisions as to which requests get one-hour response times and which get four-day response times?

You can keep going, asking more and more logical questions until their entire operational plan is public.

Let’s say that Buffer chose to disclose the entire response-time distribution and the triage criteria. Where would that lead?

In our interview, Carolyn noted that most customer service and support organizations train customers to get angry. Customers learn that getting angry leads either to faster resolution or to a supervisor who has the power to resolve an issue. This is a version of gaming the system.

Buffer’s disclosure of the triage criteria most likely would cause its customers to game the system. If I knew the criteria, I would certainly try to adjust my request to get a higher position in the queue and get a faster response.

Clearly this doesn’t help Buffer or its customers; it only adds to animosity and frustration.

Let’s say they only disclosed the distribution of response times. That would create frustration on the part of customers who were in the bottom 10%, or worse, the bottom 1%. My assuming my request fell at the bottom is not nearly as bad for my relationship with Buffer as having them tell me exactly how unimportant they deemed me. We are all better off if I don’t know.

This is, then, a choice Buffer has made about how much information to disclose and where to stop disclosure. I think they have made a good choice, in that what they disclose helps customers understand their efforts better without taking away from the relationship and adding to frustration.

Is this two-faced? Yes. But not in a detrimental way.

Buffer values transparency on one hand and says it will keep increasing transparency. But it also makes choices about just how much disclosure meets their transparency value. Being transparent is an aspiration. We have yet to find out how far Buffer will go.

We expect transparency from companies. But we also expect there are boundaries, just like there are in our personal lives.

How do You Decide?

You make decisions every day on what to disclose to whom. Do we tell our customers this fact? Do we tell the world that policy?

How should you decide?

I propose there is one simple standard, embodied in these two questions: Does the disclosure add value? And if so, to whom? If it adds value for your customer, disclose.

Tell us how you’ve made your difficult disclosure decisions in the comments.


Evolution: Demographics, Personas and the Relationship Graph

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(this is a repost of a post written by me for Nimble.)

Evolution: Demographics, Personas and the Relationship Graph

The “Social Graph” is all the rage in the social world. Ever since Facebook launched Graph Search in 2013 and the launch of OpenSocial in 2010, we’ve been talking about interesting and useful ways to use this new form of search and the data it can provide. We’re not there yet, but with the growing popularity of graph databases, the ideas behind the Social Graph are about to become very useful to sales and marketing teams.

I worked with a client last year to develop a series of marketing campaigns based on events their customers experienced. They had learned that companies bought their type of marketing automation systems soon after certain events occurred. In their case, companies tended to buy soon after receiving B-round funding. The campaigns we developed were triggered by news that some company had received B-round funding.

This was far more effective for them than the traditional demographic- or persona-based marketing, and it tells us a lot about how to look at prospects beyond fitting them into a particular description.

It also leaves out a very important part of any sales or marketing effort: relationship building. While the company was able to offer the right solution at the right time, the hard work of building a trusted relationship never happened.

So how did we get to the point where relationship-building got left out? Let’s look at the evolution for the answer:


Rewind half a century(!) to Don Draper’s office, circa 1965. He’s just landed a luxury car account and is recommending a targeted direct mail (state of the art!) campaign. He needs to know where to send his brilliant mail pieces, and the best tool at his disposal is demographics. So he goes to the U.S. Census Bureau and pulls personal income data by ZIP code. He sends that mail piece to everyone in every ZIP code with an average personal income above a defined threshold.

Let’s say I am lucky enough to live in that ZIP code. Am I in the market for a new luxury car? Would I consider buying one if it met certain preferences? The answer is more likely “no” than “yes.” While the effectiveness of direct mail relied on a very low percentage of success, it also wasted the vast majority of the invested resources. No marketer or salesperson really knew if I was ready to buy a new car until I showed up at a dealer.


Fast forward 30 years to the same agency with yet another new luxury car account. Now they have lots of data at their disposal. They can create a picture of the type of person who might buy the car. It might look like this: A well-educated home-owner who travels for pleasure two or more times per year and shops at other luxury stores. Combine that with income and credit data, and you have a much-improved chance of reaching the type of person who would buy this car.

Again, let’s say I’m that person, and I receive the advertising message by mail and maybe by email or online. But I just bought a competitor’s model last year, and it’s going to be a few years until I’m ready to buy another new car.

The point of this is we can know quite a lot about out prospective buyer but still miss the two most important things:

  1. Is the prospect ready to buy?
  2. Have we established a trusting relationship that will result in the prospect buying from us?

Solution: The Relationship Graph

The timing-based marketing programs I mentioned above are a good first step toward answering the first question. As you get to know your prospects, you can get to know their buying triggers. This allows you to focus your sales and marketing efforts on those prospects who are truly ready to buy (not necessarily the same ones who said they were on your registration form).

But what about building a relationship? Just pursuing everyone who matches your target persona will not work.

We are very good at some parts of relationship-building. We know how to find common connections on social networks such as LinkedIn and how to scour social media streams to find more information about a company or individual.

Let’s go back to the Social Graph. In my personal life, I can look at Facebook and ask  interesting and useful questions. Let’s say I were looking for someone to join me at the movies this weekend. I can go to Facebook and ask, “Which of my friends lives near me and likes newly released movies?” Questions like that can help me connect with people with whom I have established relationships (or even with those I don’t) who might be willing to engage in the way I seek engagement.

What if we did this for our customers? What if I, in my consulting practice, could ask questions such as, “At what companies do I have connections who enjoy reading white papers about customer relationship management?” Then, when I write a white paper, I’d reach out to those people. And maybe I’d ask for their feedback. And maybe, if they like it, I’d ask them to tell their friends.

What if I could go further and ask, “Which connections enjoy reading CRM white papers and have recently expressed concern about their churn rates?” That’s someone I can help, and I’d want to reach out to them.

Unfortunately, much of this capability is not yet built. But the technology exists. The data exists. And, probably most importantly, your relationships exist.

And you can put the information in your organization together in a way that mirrors the Social Graph and starts to answer this kind of question. I mean the kind of question that will help you better understand your prospect and help you to add value to their business.

This is, I believe, the next step in sales and marketing evolution.

Tell me what you think it would take to put those together and start asking questions that lead to you adding value for your prospects.