Five in the Morning

number-fiveA few months back, Steve “aggregator-in-chief” Woodruff started a daily blog series called “Five in the Morning”.  Through the series, Steve shares recent posts and news items from his feed reader that he finds interesting.  Wednesday night, Steve and I got together to talk shop and to enjoy some award-winning, Bobby Flay-slaying BBQ ribs. Somewhere between the 13th and 17th napkin,  Steve mentioned that he wanted to franchise the Five in the Morning series to cast a wider net around the great content available out there.  When he asked if I wanted to give it a shot this week, I said sure.

So without further adieu, here are five posts that I think you’ll find interesting….

  • Forrester’s Bruce Temkin discusses the just released 2008 Customer Experience Index.  As usual, industries with the least amount of competition clock in with the lowest customer experience scores.  That includes Comcast whose overall index dropped a whopping 12 points since last year despite its ComcastCares efforts. Also, the post includes a link where you can download the complete Forrester report for free.
  • The guys over at MyCreativeTeam explain why an old burglar with a reindeer fetish has such a strong brand.
  • Social media consultant Matt J McDonald tells us that “Blogging is hard work” plus 15 other Simple Social Media Truths.  By the way, some believe Matt and American Idol David Cook were Separated at Birth (Go ahead, click the link.  You know you want to).
  • Crayonista Adam Broitman outlines three creative interactive marketing strategies that invoke consumers to talk to other consumers about brands, with minimal interference from the brand itself.  Note: the post starts on Adam’s blog but continues at iMediaConnection.
  • Last but not least, Amber Naslund picks up on posts from a few other bloggers and makes a great case for looking at old tools through new lenses.
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Can User Generated Content Hurt Your Brand?

Folks in social media circles like to talk about the value using customers as brand ambassadors who advocate for the brand through social media. Of course, armed with a video camera and an internet connection, people don’t need to be asked by brands to be ambassadors. Remember Nick Haley’s iPod Touch ad? The really passionate ones just do it. When it comes out as good as Nick’s did, the brand can’t help but be happy. But what if your passionate customers create something that really doesn’t represent your brand in a helpful way. What if it’s so “cheesy” that it starts getting some serious YouTube traction. Is this kind of free advertising,”good” advertising?

Chris Abraham pointed this one out on his blog today. The person that made this video (and I assume composed the song) is clearly passionate about Hillary Clinton. I wonder if this is the kind of brand ambassador Hillary is looking for.

Is soon as the title of this post hit Twitter, I received a couple of comments suggesting that UGC won’t hurt your brand if you properly supervise it’s creation.  That’s great if you are in-charge, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.  There is no way to supervise or manage this.  You can only respond to it (or not).

So how does user generated content like this affect a brand. Is it helpful? Can it be detrimental? If it happens to you, how will you respond?

Discuss!

Your Brand is Defined by the Customer Experience, Not the Slogan

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When the 2007 holiday season kicked off a little over a month ago, US-based electronics retailer Circuit City introduced a series of TV commercials focusing on the simplicity of the digital lifestyle. With the ads, Circuit City introduces their latest moniker “Simplicity Guaranteed“. According to Circuit City’s Chief Marketing Officer, the new spots “illustrate how Circuit City makes it simple to Shop (on-line), Buy (in-store) and Enjoy (firedog services) your digital lifestyle this holiday season and beyond”. ”Simplicity Guaranteed” is the latest in a series catch phrases used by the retailer over the last few years. Previous slogans have included “Imagine That” (2000-2001), “We’re with You” (2001-2004), “Just What I Needed” (2004-April 2007) and “Circuit City Makes it Simple” (2005 Christmas Season)

All of these past slogans describe brand perceptions that Circuit City aspired to but failed to achieve. Why? Because a company’s brand is not defined by its catch phrase, logo, aesthetic style or culture. A company’s brand is ultimately defined by the experience they deliver to their customers and Circuit City has been unable to consistently deliver experiences that supported those brand promises.

The latest revival of the Simplicity theme is part of a larger strategic framework that I helped develop for Circuit City a few years ago (you can hear about it here). Making it Easy for customers to shop, buy and enjoy is one of the four key ingredients to the vision my team proposed. We also recognized that delivering experiences consistently supported the “Make it Easy” idea would require significant changes in processes, culture and internal success measurements. Almost two years after those recommendations were made, Circuit City has “re-branded” many of the same operational features that they have been touting for years with the “Simplicity Guaranteed” label, but has not done any of the heavy lifting required to support the long-term strategic vision of sustainable growth through exception customer experiences.

Marketing strategist Scott Glatstein suggests five steps for building a strong brand and optimizing customer experience:

  1. Identify your reasons to believe.
  2. Identify customer touchpoints.
  3. Determine the most influential touchpoints
  4. Design the optimal experience
  5. Align the organization to consistently deliver the optimal experience

Reasons to believe are those things that the customer experiences that support the brand promise. Circuit City has decided that Simplicity is one of their reasons to believe, but they have not executed any of the other steps suggested by Glatstein. Without those crucial components, the customer experience can easily fall short of the brand promise. Here’s an example:

nano.jpgOn Christmas Eve, we decided to purchase an iPod for a relative. In the weekend tab, Circuit City was advertising a free $15 iTunes card with purchase of a Nano priced at 149.99. Electing buy on-line and pickup in the store (A feature that usually does live up to the Simplicity promise) we went to the web to place the order. We were surprised and delighted to see the web price of $142.49, but noticed that there was no mention of the free iTunes card on the web. Here is the first indication of a problem. The tab touchpoint and the web touchpoint are not aligned in terms of the offer. This generates confusion and apprehension for the customer.

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We made the purchase and left, with tab in hand, for the local store. When we arrived, the iPod was waiting for us as promised, but there was no $15 iTunes card. Our concerns about the conflicting offers are validated and we are now entering confrontation zone.

We showed the tab to the customer service associate who wasn’t sure how to deal with the situation. Someone else was brought over to correct the problem. He suggested to “return” the web order and resell it to get the iTunes deal. The CSA did that, but in doing so, the price went back to the advertised price of $149.99. The CSA called the assistant back and the process of “fixing the order” began. At one point, we were told that we owed another $0.70. At another we were going to get $).09 back. Clearly, the front line associates; the ones that come face-to-face with the customers every day, are not prepared to deal with this problem. The processes have not been optimized to deliver a great experience.

With the line backing up behind us, the CSA team finally found a way to make deliver the transaction with the free iTunes card at the price advertised on the website. The total in-store transaction time was over 20 minutes. Our expectations were not met and the other customers in line behind us got to share our experience as well.

So did Circuit City satisfy their 24/24 guarantee. Technically, yes as the web order was ready in less than 24 minutes. Did the experience reflect “easy to shop, easy to buy”? Absolutely not! Circuit City has not identified and evaluated all of their touchpoints against the “Simplicity Guaranteed” reason to believe. They have not designed optimal customer experiences that include these touchpoints, and they have not aligned the various channels and business functions to deliver an optimal experience. This may sound like an isolated incident, but it is not. Where else is dealing with Circuit City not Simple? How about rebates, scheduling an in-home service or getting a product repaired under warranty if you didn’t buy the extended service plan?

Circuit City was once a retail powerhouse. They practically invented the “Specialty Superstore” concept. Today they are struggling to remain relevant in what has become a commodity market. They have to compete with mass marketers like Wal-Mart and Costco who can price aggressively, niche players like Gamestop and Verizon who can beat them at the “authenticity” game and web marketers like Amazon and eBay who can always deliver a better selection and competitive prices. At $4.62, their stock price is trading a 52-week low and is flirting with a 5-year low. Circuit City will have to find a way to build a truly differentiated brand if they are going to survive. Simply adopting a new slogan that says you “make it easy for me” isn’t going to cut it. They must also consistently deliver a customer experience that supports the claim. Without that, the slogan only serves to set expectations that won’t be met and further erode the brand.

Many of you may have shopped Circuit City in the past couple of months. I would love to hear about your experiences and your ideas regarding how Circuit City could improve the customer experience.

More Thoughts on Sprint

sprintlogo.jpgTo my regular readers, I’m sorry that the blog has gone a little stale over the past week, but I’ve been a bit preoccupied trying to find a new job. Nevertheless, traffic is way, way up on the Sprint post and I have been having lots of great conversations with people who have commented on it. In lieu of a new topic, which I promise to get to this week, I’ll pass on some of those additional thoughts from my conversations. Perhaps if Sprint were a Sense & Respond organization, they would be joining in the conversation or at least be actively listening. My guess is they’re not.

Of all the comments on the post, no one defended Sprint. To the contrary, all but one had negative things to say about them. The other guy just had negative things to say about female cellphone users. Thought certainly not a statistically valid sample, I would wager that few people really love their wireless provider. It’s the nature of the industry in the US. With limited competition due to the high cost of entry, the wireless providers aren’t compelled to differentiate on customer service and in my experience, Sprint is the poor service leader.

You may have noticed that this story has gone mainstream with coverage by the Associated Press, ABC News and Brandweek . The details, if you haven’t seen them are mind-boggling. David Reich wrote a great summary today on his blog, “my 2 cents”, but here’s the big thing to consider:

Out of Sprint’s 52 Million customers, only 1000 received the letter saying they were calling customer support too much. Do the math. That’s less than .002% of their customers. There is no way that that small percentage was adding any material cost to their operation. (update:  As a friend pointed out, the actual cost of these calls could have been material; however, the methodology for counting is unclear.  For example, the ABC story indicates that a single call with 5 internal transfers might have been counted as 5 calls). Sprint says that, on average, these customers were calling in 40-50 times per month. Perhaps that’s true and given my personal experience with trying to get my own Sprint bill fixed, I can appreciate that.

Nevertheless, Sprint made the decision to go after them in a way that became very controversial, very public, very fast. The cost of this action in terms of bad PR is on par with Circuit City’s recent bungle. where they fired 3400 of their most experienced store employees to cut costs. Several months later they are still trying to explain that one, but it’s too late. In both cases, the damage to public perception has been done, although in Sprint’s case, it was pretty low to begin with and their defensive spin machine is just getting fired up. In my opinion, it was a failure of leadership in both of these companies to make such shortsighted decisions without considering how their customers would view them.

One of my conversations this week was with the Conversation Agent herself, Valeria Maltoni. She pointed me to a post she wrote about the wireless business in the US and speculates that Apple may be just the disrupter needed to shake up the industry. It’s a great post and has some David Letterman Top 10 humor to boot.

Sprint Fires Its Customers

I was a Sprint customer for a while.  I hated every minute of it.  The coverage was spotty and their ability to screw up the billing month after month was unprecedented.  Every month, I would call their support line, wait on hold for 30-40 minutes, and then have to explain the problem (usually se same problem as the previous month).  Once the contract was up, I fired them.  Today, Gizmodo is reporting that Sprint is firing some of their customers for, are you ready for this, making too many customer service calls regarding billing and other account info.

I’m not kidding!  Here it is:

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As outlined in letters to certain customers, Sprint is giving them 30 days notice and then they are shuuing off their phones.  In a rare moment of weakness for cell phone carriers, Sprint is going to let these customers go without having to pay early termination fees of the last month’s bill.

I am amazed by the arrogance of this action.  I’m sure these customers have nothing better to do than to use up Sprint’s valuable customer support resources day in and day out with their silly questions.  I smell an orthodoxy here.  Something along the lines of “these customers are bad because they cost us more than they generate.”

Sprint deserves some seriously bad press over this incredibly stupid approach. 

Here’s my suggestion to Sprint:  Before you start firing your customers, you should take the time to understand the source of the problem.  It’s probably staring back at you when you look in the mirror.

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 2

Disney’s parks and resorts have a well deserved reputation for delivering great experiences. In tonight’s installment, I’ll give you a few more examples from my recent trip and also examine some experiences that don’t measure up to the Disney standard.

Extend the Experience

wdw_magical_express.jpgI have written about Disney’s Magical Express before. This is the service that basically extends your Disney experience all the way back to your home airport. It’s absolutely great when it works, but on the inbound leg of this trip, it did not live up to the Disney standard. I think the problems can be traced back to the fact that Disney does not operate this service. It is outsourced to a local transportation company and therefore is not directly managed by Disney. It’s not unusual for companies to outsource parts of their operation, but they need to be very careful about ensuring that the service provider is consistently delivering an experience that lives up to your brand. My wife and I came in on different flights. English was apparently a second language for my driver and so he was silent for most of the trip. The buses have TV screens and on previous trips, there has been either a movie like Snow White or a video marketing the Disney Vacation Club. On this trip, there was nothing. It was just a bus ride.

My wife and daughter arrived around 3:00pm. While their trip seemed to measure up to the Disney Experience, trouble was just around the corner. Knowing that their luggage was tagged and would be delivered to the room, we went to the Magic Kingdom for the evening. When we returned to the room at 1:00am, we discovered that our daughter’s suitcase was missing. With her in tears, we called the Magical Express people who were able to locate the bag at the airport in about 5 minutes. They brought it to the room around 3:00am.

There are controls built into this system that should have prevented this from happening. The bag had the Magical Express tag on it indicating who it belonged to and what resort we were staying at. It should not have taken a phone call for them to recognize and resolve the problem. Disney needs to do a much better job of ensuring that their service providers are consistently delivering an experience worthy of the Disney brand. On the positive side, my return trip to the airport was wonderful. The driver was one of the better entertainers that I had seen all week. Oh, and about the lack of movies on the inbound trip, the driver explained that it was a brand new bus (styled for the Disney Cruise Line), and the video gear had not been installed yet. Setting expectations is a good thing!

Let Me Co-Create the Experience

monsters-inc-laugh-floor-co.jpgIn recent years, Disney has incorporated more and more interactivity into their attractions. EPCOT’s Mission Space, for example, assigns roles and tasks to each of the riders on “the mission”. The Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride in Disneyland allows you to not only rack up the points when you’re riding it in person, but also to participate through an online component. The Turtle Talk with Crush attraction uses digital puppetry to create a verbally and visually interactive animated character. A new attraction in Orlando’s Tomorrowland is Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor Comedy Club. Like TurtleTalk but on a much larger scale, the Laugh Floor features interactive animated characters, but in this attraction, Disney has gone one step further by integrating the use of cell phone text messages into the attraction. While you wait in line for the next show, you are asked to send text messages from your cell phone to the monsters, offering your jokes for the monsters to tell. I saw lots of people, mostly kids, texting jokes while waiting for the show. We did it; they used our joke and gave credit to our daughter. What’s really different here is the use of an independent, guest-owned electronic input device to influence the content of an attraction.

I’ll post the rest of my observations tomorrow, but in the meantime, think about how these points might apply to your business. If you are in the business of delivering experiences (hint… you are!), what are you doing to extend the brand experience beyond the boundaries of your physical or digital space. If you are using partners to deliver some of you brand’s experience, are they executing consistently and at a level that your customers expect? Are you engaging your customers by allowing them to help you co-create the experience? You should be.

Part 3 of this series is here.

The Little Stuff Redux

Earlier this week, I wrote about the opportunities in addressing the sources of customer dissatisfaction. On Friday, APs Technology Writer, May Wong, published a report citing difference in the service levels between Circuit City and Best Buy. The report was insightful and absolutely reinforced the points I was making earlier in the week. I’m including some quotes and commentary below.

This customer’s past experiences have let him to solid opinions of the two retailers. Who do you think he recommends to his friends and family?

Ralph Devoe’s hunt for a new computer monitor didn’t include a stop at Circuit City, even though one of its stores was only a few doors down from the Best Buy where he went shopping this week. “They often don’t have what I want,” the retired physicist said. “And Best Buy just seems a little better. The salespeople actually know what they’re doing.”

Having a large inventory selection and “knowledgeable associates” are really important, but they are big and potentially costly things from an operational stand point. In my earlier post, I focused on the smaller sources of dissatisfaction, like how the customer is treated in the store. The following really drives that point home:

For sure, bargains and good rebates could be found at the stores of either chain — an important draw for the price-conscious American public.

But other times, it’s as basic as how a store feels, how the products and aisles are laid out, how the workers there treat you.

A friendly greeter is stationed just inside Best Buy’s front door.

“How’s it going? Welcome to Best Buy,” he repeats.

Within a minute of browsing in a section, a Best Buy associate swings by to offer assistance. The staffer casually dispenses product info or comparisons, and just as quickly lays back if you decline the help.

A visit to Palo Alto’s Best Buy and Circuit City to pick up a component-video cable illustrates the differences.

At the Circuit City, it took some effort to find a store employee to ask where to find the cables — and the red-shirted employee who was tracked down misdirected this shopper to cables for TVs.

At Best Buy, the greeter at the door quickly responded with a more specific question, “What kind of component video?” By asking, he learned the cable’s purpose was for a game console and pointed to the video game section.

The desired Sony-branded cables were sold out, but the Best Buy associate did double check the store inventory.

That kind of attention to detail goes a long way in a shopper’s experience.

I also talked about ensuring that your interactive displays are always functioning. Ms. Wong points out this difference between the two retailers:

At another Best Buy in Sunnyvale, for instance, the music MP3 players on display were in good working order, and a patron could test the controls and use headphones to listen to them. By contrast, the Palo Alto Circuit City’s portable players — with the exception of a separate display for Microsoft Corp.’s Zune player — were not powered and lacked headphones so a shopper couldn’t get a good test run of the devices. Product information placards were also missing from some models.

The bad news for Circuit City is that this “little stuff” is rampant throughout its stores and it all adds up to a pretty crappy experience for customers. Both companies recently reported results for the previous year and the differences were like night and day. I am not an analyst and I can’t tell you to what degree Circuit City’s continued lagging performance is attributable to the sources of dissatisfaction in their stores, but my gut tells me that it is a significant cause.

The good news is that these problems can be overcome and for the most part, the solution doesn’t involve a big capital investment. What it does require is much more valuable, and perhaps more scarce, than money. It requires people that care. Store associates that take the time to look for things that aren’t right with their store and fix them. Support associates that are not only responsive to the needs of the people in the store, but are proactively looking for ways to improve the operation so that the store associates can focus on the customer and not the infrastucture.

Remove the Sources of Dissatisfaction. That’s the fourth item in my Prescription for Building Loyalty but after Listening to your Customers, it’s the next most important thing that retailers must do.