June 19, 2013
Surprise is a good thing when followed by the phrase, "Happy birthday!" Otherwise, it's a negative emotion, and when it happens in a customer-provider relationship, it's a source of dissatisfaction. Regardless of what you sell or who you serve, your customer's expectations need to be met for you to succeed (in their eyes).
In fact, I think it's an ethical issue: Properly guiding customer expectations is an act of business love. When you've gone out of your way to eliminate surprises and give your customer proper guidance for them to distribute, you are being a compassionate person.
Too often, we over sell our service and under play things that can go wrong. Likely, we lack confidence that the customer will take the good/bad/interesting into account and still do business with us. Often times, people try and "manage" our expectations with a creative lie. Example: You make a walk- in reservation at a restaurant, they tell you it's going to take an hour and in fact, they expect it to be more like 30 minutes. This way, you will be pleasantly surprised. Right?
While this might work for dinner, think about how sandbagging can throw off your customer's internal reporting and management efforts. If you purposely under promise delivery to give your service some slack, your customer makes plans accordingly -- and when you deliver quicker than expected, it's not a good thing after all. Also, it's again an ethical issue, where we lie to customers because we can't trust them with all the information.
Instead of managing your customer's expectations, guide them openly and honestly. Here are a few ways to do it, and still land the deals you are chasing:
1. Sell In Scenarios - Instead of under or over selling, offer up three potential scenarios, and the variables that determine whether they will come to pass. Predicted Outcome is your honest assessment of the product's performance or delivery of the benefits. You should spend considerable time recalculating your company or product's performance to be on top of this scenario. Worst Case Outcome is the disaster scenario, where the benefits may not materialize or worse, there will be negative side effects. In many cases, this scenario occurs due to something the customer does or the complexity/high risk nature of the service you provide. Finally, there is the Best Case Outcome. Stay realistic as you paint this picture, clearly stating what you and the customer need to accomplish to make it a reality. If your customer's expectations start to drift to the Best Case Outcome, make sure you are the reality king or queen here, guiding them back to Predicted Outcome. They will thank you later.
2. Ask the Right Questions - In many cases, your customer is surprised because you didn't ask him or her what they needed to know up front, and ongoing. I've worked in the technology and marketing field for over fifteen years, and this answer can vary from customer to customer. Some are obsessed about delivery dates and others worry about cost overruns. Once you define their priorities, you can create a regular reporting system, where they are constantly updated about project progress.
3. Reset Expectations - If you realize that there is going to be a delay in delivering your service, or a lack of performance in the campaign, time is not on your side. The longer you wait to reveal this to the client, the more they will be upset when they finally find out. When I was producing the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show webcast (held in '99), we had set an expectation that the internet event would be a technical success, and also help the company build an email list for digital marketing. Our co-founder Mark Cuban reviewed my project and told me that "the event will crash the 'Net in less than 10 minutes!" He agreed, though, that the email list campaign would likely be successful, given the attention the event would generate.
He then dispatched me to Columbus to reset the customer's expectations. Our marketing group even did a mock up of a Wall Street Journal article reporting the event's meltdown. This way, we graphically demonstrated the Worst Case Outcome as a likely reality to the client. "It's a healthy problem!" they replied, and the event was still held. And it crashed in less than 10 minutes.
When I returned to Victoria's Secret HQ the following week, I was not scolded, but hugged instead. Why? Executives, partners and even board members got the word up that the event was likely too big for the young internet, which was a testimony to the power of the brand. We over delivered on the email list, and the customer agreed to try the fashion show webcast the following year -- at the Cannes film festival.
Do you have a story about the importance of guiding customer expectations? Share it in the comments and who knows, you might make the pages of my next book.Tweet
June 17, 2013
Up until recently, I would have told you that texting did not create much of an opportunity for businesses as it might be considered obtrusive. Of course, for critical communications like flight delay info, I've given out my text for a notification to airlines. A few friends of mine, have their bank balance texted to them to avoid over drawing their account. Other than that, it seemed like most consumers only want to receive person-to-person texts (and not to often!).
As a result, most companies don't integrate text notification into their customer relationships. They gather physical mail addresses, email addresses and phone number (without validating that they are mobile or home phone numbers for text notification purposes). If they gathered a text number, along with "would you prefer text notifications?," they could leverage it to save or make more money.
I recently shred this advice to the owner of a chain of dry cleaners, and to him, it was an unproven concept. He needed a case study where it could actually save or make him money, otherwise "why recreate the it's-ready wheel?"
Mobile1 Lube Express offers an example of how retail businesses can leverage text notifications, an offshoot of the same technology that drives social media, to drive customer engagement and loyalty. Their results likely scale to the general population, beyond their category.
In 2012, the Willow Grove Pennsylvania location created a program where customers were offered an oil-change reminder via direct mail, email or text message. Surprisingly, 32% of all participants requested text notifications. When they received a text notification, 35% of them came into the shop for service within 45 days. In sharp contrast only 21% of those who were sent a reminder in the mail came in for service during the same period. Text driven customers spent almost 15% more than the average, proving that not only is digital communication a great way to connect, it often reaches the most lucrative customer segments.
The company will replace their print mail notifications with digital ones to both increase marketing effectiveness as well as reducing costs. This is the true promise of connecting with customers where they are, as opposed to continuing to use legacy ways of communicating. In any event, Mobile1 Lube Express learned that keeping in touch with customers pays off...it's just a matter of how much.
Read more about this case study here. And don't forget to get permission first before you text!Tweet
June 14, 2013
This week, I've been tweeting and writing about innovation. We all know it's the prescription for sustainable success in a constantly changing world. But what exactly is innovation? I've played around with several definitions over my consulting and speaking career - and each one is helpful to those trying to harness it's power.
So, I've created a Facebook Page contest, inviting all my friends and followers to submit their definition of innovation. Next week, I'll pick the most helpful submission and mail the winner a nifty Intel titanium removable drive (8 gigs). It's my way of saying "Thanks" for contributing to the conversation.Take a minute to check out the video I made that explains the rules, the prize and my motivation for launching it. Make sure your submissions are in the comments to the video on the Facebook Page and not here.Tweet
June 13, 2013
Do you think you can be the next great innovator? Are you gunning to be an inventor like James Dyson or Thomas Edison? Do you want to disrupt entire industries like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or You Tube's Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim?
It's entirely possible for you to become a great innovator that changes the world with your creativity, passion and grit determination. But behind these innovations is a simple process that must be followed, otherwise you can end up frustrated and broke.
1. Identify a Big Opportunity - Many innovators created a solution to a problem they've encountered that is common place. Dyson couldn't find a vacuum cleaner that sustained decent suction over time. He did his research, realizing he was not alone. Jeff Bezos discovered that book stores couldn't stock enough books to offer consumers (and himself) the selection they needed. In every case, there's a problem and a big opportunity for whoever solves it. This is key to raising any type of funding too. It's critical that you also have connections, experience or proprietary data to assist you in solving it, otherwise you are at a competitive disadvantage over time.
2. Brainstorm a Solution - Leveraging your experience, data or network, identify novel solutions that completely solve the problem at hand. At this point, be clear on your assumptions (problem, market, requirements, solutions, market reactions to it, etc.). The best solution will likely be simple, yet hard to execute.
3. Prototype the Best Idea - Tom Peters once told me that prototypes are important, because if you have one, someone can point at it and say, "that's not the right solution!" Without it, all you are doing is talking in generalities. Your prototype might be a working product, a minimally viable service or even a visualization (diagram) of the solution. Southwest Airline's Herb Kelleher often talks about the importance of his napkin diagram of regional flight routes as the key to recruiting talent and money to his business concept.
4. Test Your Assumptions and Be Willing To Pivot - Many of your initial assumptions about the solution (design, rules, go-to-market strategy) will be off, because you don't know what you don't know as an innovator. You are looking for a product market fit, not the best looking or sounding solution. Put the product on sale, give demos to prospects and collect feedback. In Nail It Then Scale It, author Nathan Furr suggests that if your idea is has product-market fit, then 50% of your cold calls will be returned. If your early feedback suggests you are on the wrong track, be willing to dump the solution and return to step two. Eric Paley puts it best: "Don't love your business idea. Love the problem you want to solve."
5. Execute On a Validated Idea - By execute I mean finish what you start, obsess over the details and never stop testing your assumptions. Great innovators are first and foremost, exceptional finishers. A few years ago, I made a Skillsoft video explaining my perspective about the innovator's chief requirement: Execute!Tweet
June 10, 2013
In this edition of Media Monday, I'd like to shift the conversation to two areas where most of us are either unprepared or underfeatured. These two areas of web programming complexity are critical, as they make up over HALF of the traffic that comes to our websites. Consider the following two stats:
* 23.1% of all traffic to U.S. websites comes from mobile devices (Walker Sands)
* 29 percent of all traffic to U.S. websites comes from bots (Comscore).
Many of the business owners or managers I've talked to about this wonder what the big deal really is. "I've looked at my website on my iPad and with a little adjustment, it looks perfect to me," is a typical reply. But the reality is much much different. Take retail eCommerce: According to a report late last year by Skava, only 7% of retailers have tablet friendly sites. This means that some type of functionality is off: Flash, buy buttons, pop ups, etc.
Why is this a big deal? If you fail for your user, the costs to get them back go up dramtically. The May 2013 Mobile Experience Survey suggested that 44% of users will NEVER return to a website that is not mobile friendly. Wow. That's not a small number. While you may be willing to play around with your website to show it off on your Android phone for a friend, your customers and prospects will not.
Then there's the issue of being Bot-Ready. In some cases, the bots are friendly: Search engine bots that are attempting to index you for discoverability. However, in most cases, the bots are spam tools that are designed to use your website as a distribution platform to sell dubious products and services. One of my good friends has a website that sells a training course and recently, he's been overrun by spam ... getting over 100 emails a day due to having insufficient filters (captcha is an example, although an overbearing one).
Fail to be ready for the good bots and your website will be hard to find. Forget about the bad bots and you'll gain more grief than leads from your website. In both cases, the fix isn't really that hard, usually a matter of finding an SEO expert or using any one of a multitude of off-the-shelf filtering and security products. For both mobile and bot prep, here are some resources for you (or your friends).
(For bloggers) Top 6 Wordpress Plugins To Stop Bots/SpamRegistrationTweet
June 07, 2013
Here are my three favorite Lytro shots for you to enjoy this fine Friday. These are living pictures you can interact with by clicking once to change the focal point or twice to zoom in and move around to see different perspectives. If you've never played around with one of these pictures, take a second to give it a whirl!
June 05, 2013
We all know that giving attaboys or attgirls to our team is a good thing, right? Not so fast, or should I say, not so general. Research from Bersin indicates that certain types of accolades or recognition works better than others - especially when it comes to Gen Y employees.
What works? Highly specific feedback that identifies exactly what your employee did, the difference it made and how you feel about it. What fails? Vague feedback that doesn't isolate your employee's thoughtful action and its output.
When you tell someone, "you are doing a great job" that is a case of vague feedback. When you say, "I appreciate the detail you put into that client report, especially the metrics you included on opt out. It's one of the the top reasons they've renewed the campaign, and I'm proud of your thoughtfulness" you are being highly specific.
This is important to Gen Y employees that play work like a videogame, seeking to master it and not just suck-up-to-the-suits. General feedback gives them the idea that it's not personal to them or thoughtful on your part, by the way. A recent article in Harvard Business Review pointed out that most companies ranked giving feedback as dead last in competencies, but a top priority to Gen Y employees. So think before you give praise, even if it means you give it less often.
The other reason specific positive feedback works best is because it perpetuates the specific behavior that you want to see happen more often. A generalized, "good job last quarter" doesn't signal to your employee what they should be repeating, other than "doing a good job."
Recently, I gave feedback to my event coordinator at my speaking manager group that was highly specific. She added power point format to an event report (telling me that the event manager wanted me to know that she was using the 16X9 format instead of the default 4X3). That's really important to a speaker that doesn't want to have to reformat a presentation at the last minute...and I use a lot of screen captures that would look stretched otherwise. When I told my event manager that including that type of information was helpful and saved me time and stress, she noted it and told others they should start to include such logistics reporting for all speakers and all events. That's how specific feedback can improve the entire system!
June 03, 2013
When your customers brag about your product or service, their friends listen. That's what Nielsen learned in their Trust Survey, when they discovered that consumers were 71% more likely to trust (and act on) a social media recommendation than an advertisement.
When a facebook friend recommends you, shares a link to you or reviews you on Yelp or Trip Advisor...good things happen. When you run an ad or launch outbound marketing campaigns, you spend money, get some results and eventually optimize yourself into some sort of ROI. It's a classic continuum: Cheap-to-free incremental sales VS costly incremental sales.
Last week I stayed at a Pod hotel in Manhattan. The rooms are small but the design is hip and the price can't be beat: $185 a night! As I was heading out of my room on the last day, I noticed a placard on my door (see above) that invited me to share my experience via TripAdvisor. It even provided a QR code I could scan with a single click on my iPhone and .... it took me straight to their page, where I could review them (and share that review via my FB or Twitter stream).
Now that's the way you do it. Of course, if they had dingy rooms and bad service, this could be a prescription for disaster. But they don't, and they know it very well. They determined that Trip Advisor was the key battle ground to capture rooms up for grabs (which the numbers support) and with a simple in-product placement (sign on hotel room door), they've poured fuel on the fire.
You can/should/must do this too. Much like Pod, you should think about how product or service design can enable customers to share the love easily. Notice I wrote, "easily." Every single step you ask them to take dramatically reduces the likelihood they will actually tell their friends, and their friends, about your great service. That's why Pod thought to offer me a QR code for easy-evangelism.
If you offer a web service (like 99 Designs), you can allow customers to share their new listing for comments or friend-sourced contributions. If you send customers online satisfaction surveys, you can easily code "share this" buttons to enable them to broadcast your awesomeness. When I gave away a chapter of my fourth book, sharing was built into the reading experience every few pages. This led to significant downloads on launch day, which propelled the book to #91 on Amazon.
How can you design "share your great experience with us" into your customer's experience? If you do this already, what steps can you eliminate and how can you provide the sharing-opportunity at the right time? These are the new questions that buzz marketing enthusiasts must ask if they want to capture the social opportunity at hand!
(This is from my newest book "The Social Opportunity" that I give to my keynote audiences. I've been speaking across the country on this subject, and opening eyes to the fact that social media offers a great R&D, customer service, direct marketing and brand evangelism opportunity to businesses that are adept at design, testing and risk taking. If you are interesting in having me visit your company or conference, go here.)Tweet
May 31, 2013
If you work long enough, you'll be part of an epic failure that petrifies you. You won't know how to deal with it, and likely, you'll respond by trying to hide it or deflect the blame to someone else.
That will not make you stronger, happier or healthier.
Many positive thinkers might tell you to ignore bad news, not think about it, and just assume the best. But the worst-case scenario tends to grow in its enormity when you haven’t faced it. In How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie shares a foolproof technique that Willis H. Carrier (founder of air-conditioning giant Carrier) used to conquer worry thoughts.
Early in Carrier’s career, he was put in charge of installing a device at a factory that his employer owned. After Carrier had spent twenty thousand dollars on the installation, the device failed. Initially, he was petrified with worry, but after a few days he realized that worry wouldn’t get him anywhere.
The first thing he did was to clearly define the worst-case scenario: He’d lose his job. The second thing he did was to accept that idea and declare that life would go on—there would be other job opportunities. The final thing he did was resolve to do better than the worst-case scenario.
With a sense of calm he fessed up to his boss about the situation and asked for additional funds to fix the botched installation. In the end, he kept his job, and the device was soon in working order. He beat the worst, and from that day forward, he dealt with all his worries the same way.
The next time you are filled with worry, try Carrier’s strategy:
1. Define the worst case. Ask yourself honestly, What’s the worst thing that can happen? Once you do that, you’ll find that your imagination is getting the best of you. The reality is usually not that bad, once you clearly define it. It has the most power when it remains a mystery.
2. Accept it as survivable. Act as if the situation were a foregone conclusion, and let it go as a lesson to be learned. At the very least, admit that there will be some negative repercussions, regardless of your best efforts.
3. Make a goal out of beating the worst-case scenario. Develop a set of responses that can help you trim your losses and mitigate damages.Tweet
May 29, 2013
Email is likely your top communication tool at work, adding up to 75% or more of your communications. Sometimes you do email well, other times, not so much. Much has been written about the nasty-gram emails that circulate around the office, killing off relationships along with your professional reputation.
Most of you are too smart for that gaffe under normal circumstances. You've learned to save it to draft, think it over, and never hit Send. But there's another gaffe that you can easily make and it's the biggest one of all: Threaded Relationships.
By this, I mean that you transmute a real-time relationship into an endless email thread of asynchronous existence. This often happens in your project work, especially if information plays a big part of it. You start out building up a work relationship via meetings or phone calls, and at some point, the threaded relationship starts.
Instead of picking up the phone, you reply to an email (or a thread). Instead of having a chance or scheduled meeting, you craft an email status report and throw it over the fence. Your ePartner falls into that rhythm with you and the thread(s) begin. Eventually, your entire set of information transactions lives in an Inbox or folder. You feel smugly efficient, thinking that the other people at work are wasting valuable time having conversations, often riddled with small talk. And then it happens.
A seven layer thread (an original note with six back-and-forth RE's) turns into a misunderstanding. Sometimes capital letters, question marks and passive-aggressive smiley faces are used. The subject line is so outdated, it reads like a line of RE: RE: RE: code. User frustration sets in, as you and your pen pal grown tired of having to cursor down six feet to review the thread prior to answering the last "HUH?" reply.
Even worse, thread relationships start to build up latency. At first, you are quick on the reply, answering emails in an hour or two. Then, you or your partner shift to four hours or more for our replies. At some point, work-time email requests are answered over a glass (or two) of wine at 9pm and the language gets a little pointed. Eventually, you have to forward previously sent emails to jog a reply. And resentment starts to build up.
Then, the worst can happen. Our common sense mutually fades, and you both start to lob nasty-grams at each other. You assume that given your email volume going on, there are shock absorbers that can smooth over the biggest bumps. And that's when the threaded relationships descends into a bad one - usually culminating in a scathing set of emails that finally lead to a real-time fight. And when you get to that point, you wonder how such a thing could happen!?
Takeaway: To avoid this mistake, routinely break the thread with a phone call. Likely, you'll solve any misunderstandings quicker than you will behind your laptop. If you've fallen out of regular real-time interactions, ask yourself, "how's that working for you two?" Fall back into the habit of regular conversations, even if you decide to limit then to 15 or 30 minutes for the sake of productivity.
It makes sense that our gravest errors with technology are subtle ones that occur due to a lack of knowledge on our part. But now you know, which may just save you from your over-efficient self.
For more: Check out my Email Training Course for companiesTweet