Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page
Maybe you should take a hammer to your iPod. OK, maybe not literally, but have you given any consideration to what the impact of the MP3 file (and Apples’s game changing iTunes business model) has been on the customer experience for recorded music? Steven Wilson, the driving force behind the band Porcupine Tree has given it a great deal of consideration. Wilson is clearly a minority in an industry transformed by technology and focused in selling three minutes of disposable entertainment at $.99 a pop. He sees the long form package as the best way to deliver a quality experience to the listener. Like legendary artists that came before digital, Wilson still produces limited edition, high quality vinyl collector’s pressings and “Digi-Pacs” that contain both stereo and 5.1 mixes contained in packaging which is in itself a work of art with pages of glossy artwork. Last month, Wilson released his first solo project to critical acclaim. Insurgentes is about music and the album as art form, and applying the same aesthetic vision through the writing, performance, production, artwork, lyrics, videos and beyond. It also reflects a theme which has been in Wilson’s most recent Porcupine Tree releases:
“My fear is that the current generation of kids who’re being born into this information revolution, growing up with the Internet, cell phones, iPods, this download culture, ‘American Idol,’ reality TV, prescription drugs, PlayStations – all of these things kind of distract people from what’s important about life, which is to develop a sense of curiosity about what’s out there.” (Steven Wilson, MTV News)
Later this year, Wilson and long-time film collaborator Lasse Hoile are expected to release a documentary film under the same title which looks into the issues of creating, packaging and marketing music in an era when iPods, Mp3’s and download culture are changing and eroding perceptions of exactly what an album is supposed to sound and look like. In an extract from the documentary included with the DVD-Audio package, Wilson laments the loss of the rock album as an art form.
As a teenager, he would go to the local record store with enough money to buy one album. He would explore the racks of titles and would make his decision on which one to buy based on, among other things, the look and feel of the cover artwork. Once the decision was made, he would spend hours exploring and absorbing his investment from the first track to the last (as it was meant to be heard).
As a teenager in the 1970’s, this really resonated with me. Think about a masterpiece like The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper. It was never meant to be consumed in three minute chunks, but rather as a whole 48 minute composition, while exploring the extensive imagery and lyrics of the album cover. A work of art like that could never deliver the same experience in digital download format with a single two inch square picture. Sadly, most modern artists have abandoned the album format as a result of the available technology.
Nevertheless, we are in a different time and the technology has forever changed the customer experience. Listening to Wilson describe why he does the things differently made me wonder if we haven’t seen a familiar phenomenon with other types of customer experiences. Have we made them superficial and disposable for the sake of technology and the need to do everything faster? More importantly, are there ways to succeed by playing the game differently like Steven Wilson does?
I worked on a customer experience strategy project for a large retailer a few years ago. One of the obvious insights gained from talking to customers was that they were (and still are) increasingly feeling starved for time. They want and expect everything to happen instantly. “Let me get in and out quickly” was the takeaway. This is a common insight used by companies developing their customer experience strategies. As a result, the approach many organizations have taken is to replace human interaction with technology. We self-serve everything from money to gasoline. It’s all very convenient, for the customer and cost efficient to the company, but does nothing to help build the brand by engaging customers through a smile, a greeting exchanged, a windshield washed (ok that’s a really old reference, but you get the point).
The point here is that while technology can be a great experience augmenter, it’s no substitute for building experiences based on the interactions of people. If you ask customers, they will tell you that that the brands they love and continue to be loyal to are the ones that deliver a great experience and a personal touch. And, by the way, they are willing to pay more for it if it’s exceptional. The good news is that so many organizations aren’t really focusing on or succeeding at making customer experiences a strategic differentiator. If the customer experience you are delivering looks more like the iPod model than the ‘album as art form” model, maybe it really is time to smash your iPod.
Today’s post was inspired by a series of interactions I had with VirginAmerica this week . Two lessons to be learned….
In one week, the family is headed to Southern California for a vacation. Although not as convenient and more expensive than flying out of Richmond, we decided (after standing up to considerable pressure from our daughter) to fly VirginAmerica from DC. Don’t tell her, but I’m looking forward to the experience.
Like all airlines, VirginAmerica has a rewards program. Theirs is called Elevate. Prior to purchasing our tickets in January, I joined the Elevate program. This past week, I received the following email from VirginAmerica:
You joined Elevate but have not flown us. That just won’t do. We want you to come and see what you’ve been missing, so here’s a special offer just for you – 30% off our lowest advertised fare on your flight with.
Now I love a good deal and this clearly is one, but there’s a big problem here. You see, I already bought tickets to fly with them, and I might add, didn’t get the 30% discount, so why doesn’t their Marketing department know that??? Companies that deliver a truly exceptional customer experience, do so consistently at every touchpoint. My expectations for VirginAmerica have been set high based on feedback from other customers and their advertising. That e-mail sent the message that they aren’t aware I’ve already booked flights. That is not what I would expect from a company focused on a great customer experience.
Lesson #1: Take advantage of the rich customer information you have at every touchpoint. Don’t send a solicitation that says “Hey, when are you going to buy my stuff” if I already have!
Twitter to the Rescue
Many companies have established a presence on Facebook and Twitter, but the ones that approach those communities as listeners and facilitators are the ones demonstrating that they get it. VirginAmerica (@VirginAmerica on Twitter) is one who gets it. This morning, I mentioned my frustration about the email experience in at “tweet” to Nick Schwartz, the guy behind the VirginAmerica Twitter presence. The response was almost immediate. He gave me his email address and asked me to send a note telling my story (in more than 140 characters), which I did. To be clear, I was not asking for nor did I have any expectations that my email would result in a fare reduction or other adjustment. I simply wanted to communicate an opportunity to inprove the customer experience. Nick passed my email up the chain and within an hour I got a reply from VirginAmerica Guest Care indicating they had forwarded my concerns to the marketing department.
I love the immediacy of being able to tap a company on the shoulder and start a conversation with out having to go to their place (i.e. website, 800#).
Lesson #2: If your company is participating in Social Media channels, take a lead from companies like VirginAmerica. Listen and Help first. The value that you deliver by doing that helps to strengthen your brand over time.
Seems like Facebook has been on a redesign binge lately and with every iteration, you can hear the increasing sound of users who are unhappy with the results. Last month, after Facebook’s redesigned Terms of Service debacle, Zuckerberg promised to be much more “democratic” about future changes. Of course that was last month and based on the track record, it’s just about time for an other customer “disruption”. In his latest move, following a failed attempt at acquiring Twitter, CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided to give Facebook users a very twitter-like, steady stream of updates. The problem is that the change is almost universally disliked, and that includes Facebook employees. Valleywag recently reported on the story based on an insider tip:
Zuckerberg sent an email to Facebook staff reacting to criticism of the changes: “He said something like ‘the most disruptive companies don’t listen to their customers.'” Another tipster who has seen the email says Zuckerberg implied that companies were “stupid” for “listening to their customers.”
There are only alleged statements, but if that’s a part of Facebook’s longterm strategy, then I think young Mr. Zuckerberg may face some problems down the road. Perhaps this thinking comes from the 24 year old’s lack of business experience . Maybe he feels that the people who place advertising on the site are the only “customers” he needs to listen to. Either way, I can think of no competitive business which has been successful in the long run without listening to its customers. If people stop liking your product, they will look for alternatives in the marketplace (just ask MySpace). When they start leaving, so will your advertisers. There’s probably a couple of college students sitting in a dorm room right now dreaming up the Facebook-killer.
Update: Robert Scoble has an interesting take on this over at Scoblizer. He makes a case in favor of Facebook ignoring the complaints in the interest of achieving a longer term objective. He says people will complain but they won’t leave. Perhaps not at this point. Too many people are joining facebook as their first foray into social media and are invested there. I would compare their position to where Twitter was when the Fail Whale was a common occurence. People didn’t leave because of the value and the investment there. Still, I think Scoble and I are looking at this from two very different perspectives. Perhaps Facebook is like mobile carriers. It’s market position allows them to grow despite doing things that customers dont like. Most competitive businesses cannot operate like that. Don’t use Facebook as your model.
What do you think?