Customer Experience Is A Culture Problem

Customer experience has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past four years.  Beginning as a new software category promising to help companies delight, convert and retain customers to where it is today, a business discipline, focused on aligning culture, strategy and processes to audiences’ lifecycle expectations. The road has been a bumpy one. The software category matured, fragmented and is consolidating as vendors and users, alike, tried to achieve the promised ROI – revenue growth from customer loyalty.  Companies ran into multiple roadblocks mostly from employee fear, resistance to change, lack of internal competences and mistaken belief that software could bypass change management. Vendors, on the other hand, introduced a steady stream of features at a cadence that outpaced the capabilities and understanding of the most sophisticated users. An impasse has been reached.  Frustrated users are taking a step back to evaluate why delivering the experience customers valued was so hard.  Robert Tas, chief marketing officer of Pegasystems, a strategic applications vendor for marketing, sales, service, and operations, summed up five key barriers as:

  • Companies structured around products instead of customers,
  • Treating digital experience as a ‘check the box’ and not understanding what it means,
  • Line of business-centric funding model that doesn’t benefit anyone else,
  • Disconnect between employee expectations with them being treated as consumers and how they ultimately treat customers , and
  • Not closing customer feedback loops and being transparent.
“Customer experience is not a technology problem – it’s a culture problem,” states Tas. Breaking the culture paradigm requires different perspectives. “Customer experience is a disruptive business phenomenon,” shares Tas.  “As companies become more data, customer and digital centric, the speed of change will reduce barriers to entry and obsolete organizations.” Customer experience is in the process of being redefined. It’s not software that automates engagement or predicts which customer an employee should or should not pay attention to.  Customer experience is about all-inclusive strategic alignment between the customer’s engagement expectations, brand promise and the company culture behind the brand.  To win, CEOs must be maniacal about that alignment. One company that has taken this to heart is Qumulo, an enterprise data storage vendor.  Karim Fanous, vice president of customer success, implemented a three-prong strategy to align the company to key customers and their lifecycle expectations:
  1. People – empower front-line employees to do what is right to meet customer expectations. Fanous takes a different approach to hiring customer success managers. He hires seasoned practitioners, storage and system administrators, that have scored high on empathy skills. These employees have the maturity and experience to make the right decisions and serve as advisors to customers that add value to every interaction.
  2. Engineering – is required to ‘man’ the customer support center and answer support calls. Having the employees who design the product address customer complaints, questions and concerns results in better designed products that can be produced with fewer defects.  In short, they take more care in doing their job because they are directly accountable to customers.
  3. Automation – to remove complexity from the user interface of products. Fanous found that the ease of product use directly correlates to repeat purchases and higher NPS scores. Ease of use, however, cannot come at the expense of missing product features, value add or differentiation.
Other best practices that Qumulo has adopted include a dedicated Slack channel for every customer that is accessed by all employees; monthly check-in customer calls by sales, customer success, engineering and product managers; and full transparency on company business decisions and performance. The CEO of Qumulo, Peter Godman, is equally maniacal about customer alignment. He mandated a customer-first policy across and up and down the organization. Godman openly engages with all employees to reinforce the importance of Qumulo’s customers and celebrate the successes.  Achieving cross-organizational customer alignment didn’t happen overnight. It took two years and Fanous will tell you that the job is never done. Customer alignment is still a nascent discipline with evolving best practices.  Practitioners are just starting to understand the role behavior, emotion and cognitive marketing have on the intersection between customers and brands, B2C as well as B2B. That’s not to say that CEM/CX software is going by the wayside. Software plays a part in analyzing data to discern intent and context which enables companies to make more effective strategic decisions and interactions to sustain alignment.  CEM, CX, MA, CRM and analytics vendors are not there yet in terms of understanding their role in this evolve discipline.  One thing is for sure, customer experience is not a marketing or customer service ‘thing’.  It is deeply rooted in your business strategy and touches every corner of the organization. If the ROI you sought from embracing customer experience hasn’t been something to write home about, it’s time take to take step back and assess your approach.  Don’t be afraid to hit the reset button on your customer alignment initiative and come at from a fresh approach.  Start with first deeply understanding the customer from the outside-in, aligning company values and culture to, and define your business strategy around the customer. The advice I give clients is simple: Focus on employees first, then customers, followed by simplifying processes and institutionalizing it with technology.   First published in Forbes on May 9, 2016

Latest Customer-Centricity Battleground Is The Website

Websites are big investments for any organization.  Often perceived as the ‘face’ of an organization, the goals of corporate websites range from educating, selling to engaging customers or simply chest thumping on how totally awesome the company thinks it is. Just about everyone feels they have a voice when it comes to their organization’s website – Marketing, sales, customer service, product marketing, the CEO, the Board, etc.  The focus frequently shifts from consciously defining how the website supports and enables the buyers’ journey to appeasing a committee of interests.  That’s too bad because according to KoMarketing / Huff Industrial Marketing, 37% of survey respondents indicated that they will visit a vendor website 3 – 5 times before making a purchasing decision. The ineffectiveness of most websites is driven by digital marketing being slow to evolve their content marketing strategy to align with customer preferences.  Websites should be speaking the customers’ language and solving their problems instead of what most do which is broadcasting corporate brand messages and selling products and services by using company internal language. Five years ago 95 percent of websites were comprised of collateral and product/service pages. Today, according to Lionbridge, that should be less than 50 percent. The other 50 to 75 percent should be storytelling, challenge/pain solving content marketing, and enabling tools and information for key moments of truth. To dig further into the role that websites should play in customer-aligned marketing, I sat down Clint Poole, VP of Global Marketing, of Lionbridge. Christine Crandell:  Do websites still matter? Clint Poole: Today’s best websites serve as the backbone of a well-structured digital ecosystem whose components are meant to manage all of the desired customer/audience digital actions, from engagement to conversion.  The website itself should serve as the definitive source for educational and meaningful content that is re-distributed across multiple digital channels in the sub-formats that make it relevant to the buyers’ preferences for those channels. The website should serve as the hub. The educate vs sell angle is a massive one. Content that educates and entertains is much more likely to be linked to compared to brand-centric or persuasive content.  Customer-valued content gets you in front of new audiences with an element of credibility and social proof that can have massive viral effect.  The above factors increase your website traffic which increases the size of your engaged audience which leads to conversions thereby increasing your opportunities and ultimately translating into increased sales and revenue. Christine Crandell:  Where have marketers gone astray? Clint Poole:  There is reluctance to change or at least the lag time to change.  Over the past decade marketing professionals have become entrenched internally as they became overwhelmed with the complexities of the new marketing technologies and engagement channels.  Culturally, the function has lost its focus on customer intimacy that used to be its core competency.  We continually hear from Marketing leaders that they are driving “back to the fundamentals” of marketing, which includes developing an understanding of their buyer’s needs, preferences, and perceptions of a brand. For consumer marketers this is a challenge because their customers don’t necessarily want to have a relationship with the brand. That requires marketers to focus on analytics to drive conclusions and big data analytics have not been perfected to a point of prevision. For B2B, marketing measurement is just getting to a point of maturity where marketers can truly measure the influence of multiple touch points across a buyers journey.  They are still looking at the overall map versus truly understanding the buyer “moments that matter” and focusing efforts on those critical interactions. Christine Crandell:  You believe that websites should follow customer journey maps and engage in ‘educational storytelling’.  How can marketers operationalize that advice? Clint Poole: The key is in the application of a new website strategy where the purpose is to educate and engage through content that is meaningful, relevant, and interesting to the buyer.  This requires a finite understanding of the preferences of your target audience at each stage of their customer journey and creation of content that matters at each and every moment.  It’s a matter of prioritizing which moments on the customer journey are most critical because there are too many moments to treat them all equally and buyers are too overwhelmed with messages to absorb everything. Personalization tools are driving the tactical application of right content at the right time, but getting it right is tricky.  Personalization can be a powerful lever when real insights about your buyer’s pains are addressed through content and delivered at the right place and the right time with the help of tools that leverage digital body language and other knowledge about your visitor. Christine Crandell:  Popular belief is that ‘content is king’ and should live in the website.  You disagree, why? Clint Poole: We believe the complexities of buyers’ preferences require a brand to consistently distribute the same message and content via multiple channels simultaneously.  As such it can’t simply live on the website in isolation, but needs to be part of a well-designed content publication strategy that maps buyer preferences and effective formats for specific channels.  Each of the digital channels plays a specific role and those roles are maturing. Blogs were once the posting ground for short-form content that marketing couldn’t justify publishing on a website.  Blog posts were perishable content that fueled social and was often focused on “engagement”; not on ‘more serious’ product content.  Today, most marketers realize that the main goal of all digital channels is to build relationships and trust. In response, blog content is slowly shifting in tone and length and we are seeing blogs trade quantity for quality. Christine Crandell:   What are best practices to ‘assemble’ the right digital properties to build engaging, endearing, and enduring customer relationships? Clint Poole: We’re in the age of the consumer which means customers expect effortless, exceptional experiences every time they interact with your brand. If they don’t get it, you risk losing more than a sale. You risk losing trust, brand loyalty, and a profitable long-term relationship. Providing exceptional customer experiences is the new competitive differentiator. And since most buyers initially interact with companies through websites, mobile apps, and social platforms, the race is on to ensure quality experiences across those and all other customer touchpoints. My advice is to start by getting to know your customers through persona development, buyer process/journey maps, and intelligence based on behavior. Because only when you truly understand your customers’ needs can you coordinate touchpoints to provide consistent, seamless experiences that foster enduring relationships. Personalization is key. Today’s consumer expects the right content at the right time on the right channel—and in the right language.  Which means brands must now scale and adapt experiences to meet the needs of their various global consumers. It is clear that website localization (including multilingual SEO, social media, marketing campaigns, and more) is a business imperative, however there is still work to be done. We saw this in our recently released State of Web Localization Survey and were surprised to see nearly 40 percent of respondents are still without a strategic approach to website localization. The cost of not localizing can be counted in lost opportunities and percentage of lost global market share. Where do you start? With a strategy that delivers locally relevant content, consistent messaging—and exceptional customer experience on a global scale.

Going Beyond Customer-Centric Marketing

The debate about how much the customer controls their relationship with a brand relationship. Every company, large and small, agrees, willingly or not, that the customer owns and defines that relationship. Where the disagreement continues, from a brand’s perspective, is what to do about it. The belief is that if marketers understand what the customer does, where they go, and what content they seek, then the brand can influence the customer’s purchase decision. To that end countless amounts of budget, time, and resources have been invested in personas, programmatic advertising, digital customer experience, journey mapping, etc. all in the attempt to spot key customer actions. With insights in hand, marketers and Sales believe they can interact with customers at those pivotal moments and shape preference or intent. By all accounts that isn’t working really well for marketers. Emails and phone calls are routinely ignored. Inbound marketing is more effective at driving demand. Customers have vocally expressed that they build preference in ways different from what brands believe. The rise of influencers is one example. Social media is a key channel for customers in their decision-making. The ease with which buyers can reach peers for opinions and advice has forever changed the influencer landscape. More credibility and weight is given to peers, peer-to-peer groups, and digital sites like G2 Crowd than brands. Increasingly it is not the company that controls and communicates their brand message but customers and the influencers they turn to. Marketing is at a crossroad. On one side is the customer; on the other is the brand, the marketer in the middle. How are leading CMOs addressing this? We asked B2B and B2B2C Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) from a wide range of Fortune 10 to early stage start-ups companies in a study sponsored by Marketo. Pace-setting CMOs have openly surrendered to the fact that the buyer is in full control of vendor relationships, not just of the purchase cycle. The result is the rise of customer co-created marketing. The CMOs we spoke to outlined four actions they’re taking to co-create marketing with their customers:

  • Routinely invite in high value target market buyers to collaborate and validate market strategy.
  • Engage high value customers in defining distinctive and valued lifecycle experiences.
  • Test marketing campaigns and messaging with high value customers.
  • Routinely share company results, good and bad, with customer collaborators.
Customers are not just dictating how vendor digital properties should function but also their expectations of content, products, marketing programs, sales methodology and customer-facing processes. We can see the seeds of this trend in the rise of storytelling and how customers engage, or not, with brands.  Brands that listen and open their four walls to customers have higher loyalty, retention and repeat purchase rates. This trend has far reaching implications beyond just marketers. Companies cannot just surrender but must capitalize on the customers’ desires if they expect to survive.
Pace setting CMOs are embracing this trend by aligning their marketing models to customers’ lifecycle expectations.   Customer behavior, emotions, actions, input and feedback are used to define marketing mixes without regard for traditional organizational ‘sacred cows’.  The extent of the customer’s impact on marketing strategy is substantial – as well as the rewards – when companies leverage their customers’ voice in a range of activities from defining go-to-market strategy, messaging, in- and out-bound marketing, segmentation and personalization to how digital properties functions, what strategic partnerships to forge, and what constitutes a whole product solution.  The motto is if customers value it, keep it, otherwise drop it.
Surrendering to customers and adopting a co-creation approach to marketing that intimately involves the customer is a triple-win path forward.   It is a cost effective and efficient approach to understanding how, when and with what to build enduring customers relationships.  Supported by deep data analysis, modeling, and hyper-personalization brands are able to build credibility and trust by treating each customer as an individual, on their terms, at scale. The future of marketing is exciting as well as challenging. CMOs are faced with the duality of managing breakneck pace of change within their markets and marketing practices while educating their management on the revenue impact of customer alignment and the real value marketing brings to the table. Customer co-created marketing is a clear path for brands to meet buyers on their terms by aligning strategy, programs, processes, and people outward and around what customers’ value in achieving their target outcome.

Adobe Study Finds Email Is An Addiction

We all complain about it, threaten to shut it down and not look at it for it consumes countless hours with questionable productivity benefits.  I’m talking about our electronic tether to and the most convenient form of social escapism from the real, physical world – email. I have this game I play once a week, build a storyline by stringing together the headings of spam emails.  Is it the story about beautiful Russian women fighting to save the world from coming to an end because a special scientist has been jailed for revealing NASA’s secret for curing hearing loss and is being tortured by certain physical non-performance?  Or is the story about how to spice up live with an extra-marital affair? Wait, that story is actually taken by Josh Duggars and the Ashley Madison website. Not good use of my time you’re saying.  For a white collar worker it’s entertaining while standing in the TSA line.  We are addicted to email. Adobe Systems released the results from their latest email survey that included 400 interviews with USA white collar workers and Adobe’s Digital Index (ADI) which analyzed 17 billion visits coming from email. The study highlights are:

  • Americans are addicted to email and check it around the clock
  • People are guilty of checking email in awkward locations or times
  • Email is and will remain a cornerstone of workplace culture
  • Millennials check email more frequently than other age groups
  • Email marketers need to do a better job to improve conversion rates
Study respondents estimate they spend 6.3 hours each weekday checking their email.  3.2 hours spent checking work email and 3.1 hours checking personal email.  Nine in 10 respondents check work email outside of work as well as check their personal email while at work.  30 percent check their email in the morning while still in bed.  Clearly, FOMO (fear of missing out) is an affliction regardless of age and not just reserved for teenagers. Americans most commonly check their emails while:
  • Watching TV/movies (70%)
  • In bed (52%)
  • On vacation (50%)
  • On the phone (43%)
  • In the bathroom (42%)
  • Driving (18%)
If you’re a millennial, those stats go way up.  And email shows no signs of going away with 47 percent of respondents expect their use of email will increase over the next five years. It is one of the preferred communication and collaboration methods at work because it’s perceived as efficient and an easy way to share content. This is fabulous news if you’re an email marketer.  You have a captive audience but consumers find it annoying to have to scroll to read the entire email (28%) or wait for images to load (21%).  Interestingly, consumers want to see fewer emails (39%), less repetitive emails as well as less annoying or intrusive (32%) ones.  I would be thrilled with less email from brands that I don’t buy from and who got my name from a ‘partner’. Email that is more personalized (and not just using my first name or truncating it to ‘Christ’) and contextually relevant to me and my habits are key to increasing conversion.  Just because I’m a boomer female that lives in California and drives a Prius doesn’t mean I want weekly emails that share the local produce purchased by various ‘hot’ eateries in Palo Alto, CA.  That doesn’t help me.  The study found that 34 percent of respondents have had to “create a new email address or switch email providers due to an overwhelming amount of spam”.  If you’re in tech, that percentage is 53 percent. The Adobe study found that retail websites drive the most web traffic from email when they are sent to customers who actually want them and receive them in the morning, while still in bed, or during working hours.   Adobe ADI cites that “local visitors, who spend more and convert at higher rates, are twice as likely to come from email as from the average channel” assuming the email was sent to their mobile device. The obsession with email is driving an increasing number of people to go through email detox.  Four in 10 have “tried a self-imposed email detox, at an average success rate of 87 percent lasing on average five days”.   My best email detox was a two week trip to Bora-Bora where the data plan was massively expensive.  Know what I learned? The world didn’t end and if it was really important, the person will email you again or text you. First published in Forbes.

My Data Is Sexier Than Your App

  I hear a rumble and it’s not the earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay Area last week.  It’s a market shifting; one of those “who moved the cheese” kind of rumbles. Marketers are challenged in achieving full customer lifecycle visibility and understanding how data science can drive more effective customer engagement and conversion.  So they invested in technology, much of it on a “leap of faith”, believing that the next application or new ‘cool’ technology will deliver higher quality revenue and better line-of-sight. Marketers being bullish about technology resulted in the infamous 1,876+ vendors graphic.  The MarTech space has begun to consolidate. The day of reckoning is upon MarTech vendors as companies take a hard look at the real ROI.  It’s not about nurture ads, retargeting, or predictive analytics in and of themselves.  Instead, marketers must prove to their CEOs and Boards ROI – how much revenue came or how faster the sales cycle is from the technology.  If the investment can’t be tied back to quantifiable revenue the odds are high that the particular Cloud application will not be renewed. Demonstrable ROI isn’t the only thing driving consolidation. Managing four to ten or more marketing applications with varying degrees of integration is a nightmare and expensive.  I have one client that uses Silverpop and NetSuite, one ‘talks’ to the other but not the other way. Marketing technologists, in- or outsourced, can be expensive. There has to be a better way and marketers are increasingly demanding that their table stake applications be on one platform. How the MarTech market consolidates and who the winners and losers will be remains to be seen. “Nurture, retargeting, predictive analytics, CRM, contact data, dialers, etc. really need to be all under one roof,” shares Henry Schuck, CEO of DiscoverOrg. “Predictive analytics is great but just knowing who the next likely buyer is doesn’t help if marketers can’t call them, email them, or put ads in front of them. Dialers are great, but not having phone numbers to call makes them fairly useless.” Schuck cites examples of the type of consolidation that marketers are looking as Salesforce’s acquisitions of ExactTarget and Pardot which bring Marketing Automation under the CRM Umbrella or Oracle’s acquisition of Eloqua and Blue Kai which aim to do the same. In the midst of the debate about marketing technology is a growing voice about data.  Schuck shares that “without data you’re dead in the water.” Everything hinges on the QUALITY of data; it is food for MarTech applications. The cornerstone of best-in-class marketing organizations is accurate contact data and the prime source of value in the marketing technology stack. How did data become unsexy? Decades ago, long before the Internet, data used to be very sexy. It was the lifeblood of marketing. Every marketer knew that if the data they were using for direct mail, events and outbound calling was bad, there was no place to hide.  It was obvious.  Back in those days, due diligence on database companies or list providers was intense – how frequently were the contacts called and information verified, what were the data quality processes, how was the data maintained, etc. The king of database companies was a La Jolla, California-based organization called Computer Intelligence (not the current company with the same name).  The depth and accuracy of their account and contact profiles was unrivaled. How did data lose its sex appeal? “We got drunk on social media and high on content creation,” believes Schuck. “Marketers bought into the belief Hubspot was preaching that inbound will drive all the leads you need.  Interesting that Hubspot has an outbound sales team to generate leads.” The days of cold call being dead and replaced by social media are over. Ironically, the value of data as core to the ability to engage prospects and customers never went away; it just slipped from the limelight.  It’s back with marketers re-recognizing that high quality data is key to their success. The door has opened for companies like Avention, RingLead and DiscoverOrg to disrupt legacy companies like Dun & Bradstreet and Hoovers who have not changed their methods. “It’s almost as though many marketers gave up on the concept that data could actually be accurate or good, shared Schuck. “But newer technologies and companies are proving that good data is not unobtainable” Avention and InsideView gather intelligence on accounts and use technology to gather, aggregate and cleanse data. These companies are layering multiple data sources together to provide near real time insights into buyer intent. Bombora is a rising backend data source because they focus on algorithm data consumption.  Just giving you the fact that an account is doing research on a specific topic – is a good trigger for action. Knowledge of action taken is gold.  For marketers and sales reps accuracy is paramount to action that converts. DiscoverOrg believes that you still need a human to interact with database contacts to have truly accurate data and be able to leverage Bombora to the next level. Selecting the right data source still comes down to doing due diligence.  Schuck’s advice to marketers is to:

  • Track everything,
  • Know exactly the revenue realized from every tool and data purchase investment,
  • Invest only in those that result in measurable revenue,
  • Set benchmarks for each tool before making the purchase and measure it annually.
  • Keep all of your data fresh and in sync.
  • Be deliberate about how you keep your data current, clean and truly sales ready in your CRM and Marketing Automation systems.
Not all lists are equal and the best marketers track their data source performance in terms of ROI and pipeline. DiscoverOrg works with customers to track the ROI of their lead source as part of the customer onboarding process.  It’s all part of being in a valued relationship and making data sexy again.