The Perfect Customer Experience

Turning Satisfied Customers into Advocates – Dale Wolf, Editor

The Perfect Customer Experience - Turning Satisfied Customers into Advocates – Dale Wolf, Editor

Steps To Creating Your Own Marketing Manifesto

There are signs of life in the economy.

Bright glimmers of hope are starting to radiate from what had been some ominous, dark clouds of an economy that looked to be in retreat. Jobs continue to be created, industrial production is nearly back to its pre-recession levels, blue-chip stocks have re-couped their losses, and consumer confidence is finally climbing. These are the glimmers of hope that show an economy on the rebound.   You can see the data that backs up these points in last week’s Wall Street Journal column, The U.S. Economic Recovery Shows Signs of Accelerating, but Still Has Lots of Ground to Cover.

Make no mistake, a recovery is on the way.  It’s time for each of us, as companies and people, to get up off the ground, dust ourselves off, and get back in this fight.  Fear still has many companies and people frozen however.  But the best way to kill fear is to completely commit yourself to your goals, plans, objectives with intensity and passion.

The best strategy of all is to double-down on what you stand for and who you are.  It’s time to revisit your marketing manifesto, both at a personal and corporate level.   Why?  Because when the rebound gathers more momentum and hits, it will be too late.  It’ll be like trying to get in shape for a very long, fast race when the starting gun goes off.  Now is the time to get in shape for the rebound.  That’s why you need to consider your own marketing manifesto for You. Inc.  And even if you work for a company today, your own marketing manifesto is even more relevant – because in the end each of us are actually in business for ourselves, regardless of who signs the check.  Here are five ideas on how to get started:

  1. Define yourself by your competencies, expertise and passion and forget about titles. When economic growth hits full stride and this rebound fully takes hold, the people who will be excelling and benefiting from it will be the ones paying the price right now of working to excel at their jobs, not hunkered down in a bunker somewhere. Continually learning, striving to excel, working to create value for customers, that needs to be part of anyone’s manifesto right now. The best marketing is based on  solid, real results.  The results of people who are now choosing to pay the price of extra effort will be the ones way ahead when the rebound fully takes hold.  Titles come and go, but who you are and what you stand for, and your willingness to excel – those last a lifetime.
  2. Kill Fear With Passionate Goals. It amazes me, how many of the students  have in classes have exceptional analytical and writing skills.  Yet they sit in class, silent, not sharing what their brilliant minds are thinking.  The majority of them are Asian and Middle Eastern young women who, being new to the United States and from cultures that taught them to be silent in groups, are afraid to say what they think.  They have such potentially amazing careers ahead of them if they could just crush the fear of speaking that holds them back.  Go find your passionate goals in your career, and in your life, and use them to kill fear now.  Life is too short to go around being so afraid.
  3. Be relentless in your pursuit of intelligence and knowledge.  Make no mistake, when the rebound hits the people that will be getting paid the most and progressing the fastest made the decision months or even years ago to pay the price of being experts in their fields.  In whatever shape the economy takes in the coming months and years, your titles from this year or years past will not nearly be as important as what you know.  How quickly you can solve complex problems, the value you deliver, your ability to avert problems for your customers – all great skill sets that come when there is a passion for continual learning and the pursuit of knowledge.  It’s not where your diploma is from either, it’s how passionate you are about learning over the long-term and your ability to translate that into results that matter most.
  4. Hit the gym and start training for the rebound – you’ll think better and be stronger. The excellent article this week in Scientific American How Exercise Jogs the Brain makes many outstanding points about how increased energy supply allows the brain to work faster and more efficiently.  As part of any marketing manifesto, there must have energy to propel it forward.  Working out and making yourself stronger for the rebound is key.
  5.  Realize economic fatalists and pessimists love company – choose to say “no” to them and “yes” to your goals and the vision of the future you want to make a reality.  A truly great marketing manifesto makes the decision to say “no” easy because there is a much bigger, compelling, valuable and important ”yes” waiting to get done.  Say “yes” to your goals and define yourself by them.  The fatalists want to see economic failure to make their theories correct.  Refuse to ride on that train of thought, find compelling goals, objectives and create a manifesto you can be totally committed to instead.

Bottom line: With an uneven yet promising recovery on the way, now is the time to define who you are, both as a company and a professional, creating a manifesto that gives you many more reasons to say “yes” to your goals and “no” to the naysayers, negative, pessimistic people who may drag you down.

 

Ten Ideas for Increasing Performance of Your Social Media Strategy

Nearly every marketing manager, director or VP who is attending my MBA class in International Marketing tells me that increasingly larger percentages of their budgets go to digital over traditional marketing.  The primary driver is social media and the urgency to stay on top of what is going on with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the relentless need for content to fuel their corporate blogs.

The students in my class are divided on the value of corporate blogs however; some see it as critical for defining thought leadership and others use them purely for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  While they are split on this issue, the class is unanimous that the era of digital marketing driven by social media is here and moving very fast.

What does Success Look Like in Social Media?

Just based on my class alone, only one in ten social media programs today is delivering on the goals they were designed for.  That’s just 10% of social media programs attaining the goals they were originally funded to achieve.  We’ve spent a good two to three hours debating this in class, looking at success stories of BestBuy, Comcast, Southwest Airlines and many others.  What I really like about teaching at the MBA level is that you can have these debates in class and everyone gets very engaged, even passionate about their beliefs.  It is a great learning experience for everyone to just hear the varying opinions.  Based on these discussions and analysis of our own companies, the following ten ideas for improving social media strategy effectiveness emerged.

  • Be original and define key performance indicators that closely capture progress to your awareness, selling and service goals.  The most successful social media programs the students had run and we studied were bold and defined their own key performance indicators and metrics of performance.  Those managing these programs were not afraid to define their own unique metrics, creating an entirely different approach to defining success.
  • Realize that defining success of social media strategies on popularity and clicks alone, followers and fans is like watching mile markers disappear in your rear view mirror as you speed down a freeway. They are both comforting as they show velocity and distance – they are great measures of progress – but what’s more important is the direction and time to the goal.
  • Give each social media channel you explore a good year of effort to understand prospects’ and customer’ expectations with regard to how and what information is delivered. Personas emerge from each social media application or platform over time; watch for the nuances of differences as they will show how prospects and customers vary in how they choose to get information.  Behavior varies widely across social media channels as does participation.  Take a good year to track that and understand it, with no expectation of payback. Once insights are gained by personas, making strategies work is much easier.
  • The best content is compelling and evokes strong emotions through stories. This is a major point and a secret that emerges from the analysis our class did of successful social media strategies.  The companies charging out of the recession right now appear to have found a way to use stories to change the frame of reference and priorities of potential customers.
  • The best social media marketing campaigns tend to be run by people more on a mission of service than salary. You can definitely see this in the case studies and the inspiring stories from the marketing directors and VPs in my class. Better to hire for passion and find someone who wants to excel at this, and who has social networking innate skills including communicating, collaborating and conflict resolution.
  • Planning for customer complaints by giving front-line social media strategies control over escalation paths and budget to solve customer problems is a win. The companies we reviewed in our case studies that range from BestBuy to JetBlue, Southwest Airlines to Comcast all defined escalation paths for dealing with customer problems.  Customers choose which social media channel to learn from, they also choose which to complain through.  Anticipating and planning for that, and creating escalation paths as part of a social media plan pays off in responsiveness and customer satisfaction.
  • Capture user complaints that come in over social media and analyze them to see how you can improve products, services, the customer experience. This is a radical concept and underscores the mindset change that must pervade companies if social media strategies are ever going to succeed.  Instead of seeing your most loyal customers’ complaining as a pain, look at them as a source of ideas for improvement.  It is a chance to understand how you are really doing; pay attention to what is being said and find insights on how to improve.
  • Failing fast is the best way to learn how to make social media work. Companies hung up on every plan being flawless all the time will find it tough going in social media.  The mindset of failure providing the insights into how best to define shifts in strategy and approach stood out in our class analysis as a key success factor.  Failing fast is a mindset that a social media team has to embrace to succeed, and that means continual experimentation until a given mix and approach works.
  • Use Google Analytics to gain insights into what types of content matter most by each type of social media and audience. One of my students found that engineers liked blogs the most and Twitter the least, while one student who runs and electronics distribution business found Twitter-based offers with urgency associated with them worked well.  Using Google Analytics, you will be able to see trends in how your various content is used by each social media application.  It is free and invaluable in the lessons learned.
  • Set up social media marketing teams to win by giving them the budget, freedom and autonomy to make the needle move on key performance indicators. Much of what is going on today in social media marketing is experimentation – the trouble is that it is not called that – especially in front of C-level executives funding these programs.  It’s time to level set expectations and tell the truth: social media is a long-term investment and the rules and assumptions used in other media just don’t work.

Bottom line: Taking a mindset of experimentation over perfection, creating your own metrics over popularity-based ones, and failing fast to learn as much as possible increase the chances of success with social media strategies.

Getting Results From Your Social Networking Strategies

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems

Socialnetworks We’re all getting reminded every day to take ownership of our digital brands and jump on social networks. For companies the pressure they put on themselves is enormous.  So strong in fact that I’ve heard of CEOs monitoring follower counts on their corporate Twitter accounts a few times a day. It’s no surprise that in the past six months there have been more companies joining Facebook, Friendfeed, and Twitter, starting executive blogs, podcasting and videocasting than ever before.

Many of these companies have no idea if these efforts are paying off or not.  Some have no idea if they are actually helping their brands to be seen as more knowledgeable and trusted.  Best case they are educating prospects and consumers, worst case they are quickly earning a reputation for spamming their followers.  It’s time for a reset of expectations on social networking strategies as a result.  The initial excitement any company’s marketing and PR departments generates by creating accounts and blogs quickly gives away to tracking popularity-based metrics instead of ones that can lead to long-term results.  This is a major problem for companies attempting to get results from their social networking strategies today.

Social Networks Are Not a Popularity Contest

Unfortunately many companies including the CEO of one I know of check follower counts like other CEOs check their stock price – religiously and often.  I’ve noticed this popularity contest mentality in companies I’ve been tracking for years as they venture into social networking.  They get a Facebook fan page, Twitter account, YouTube Channel, LinkedIn account, get Wikipedia pages done, even a Flickr account, and maybe even have an executive blog or two set up.  Once created all of these social networking accounts never gel together; they stay separate and often send confusing, even contradictory messages.  It’s easy to tell what’s going on internally. Social networks are being evaluated only on one metric: popularity.  The longer a company only relies on that single metric the longer the social networking efforts fail to deliver.

Making Social Networks Relevant To Strategies First

Conversely there are those companies who take a different approach to social networking and use its innate strengths to better communicate with and serve customers.  They realize customers own the experience, a great point that Paul Greenberg makes in his latest book, CRM at the Speed of Light, 4th Edition.  I highly recommend you pick this book up and read it. Paul does a great job of showing how companies who are getting the greatest value from participating in social networks are customer-driven. They create entire strategies based on the strengths social networks give them to connect with customers and aren’t afraid to be accountable for their customer service performance.  Paul’s book is a great framework for learning how to transform your company using social networks to better connect with customers.

Making It Happen Now

After having read Paul’s book and also from the observations of companies as they move into social networking, some attaining success while others struggle, the following lessons emerge:

  • Begin with the customer in mind first. If you are going to bring lasting change  into your company where social media is concerned, this is the point to get  really passionate about.  Be strong and keep the customer at the center of every social networking strategy, because in the end, serving them is all that really matters.
  • Get your company to quit spinning its wheels on popularity metrics.  Best case this is a measure of upper funnel marketing and PR performance or interest.  Worst case it is a measure of how well you are imitating your competitors who may also be evaluating social networks on popularity-based metrics alone.  This goes nowhere, get away from this metric and get more focused on how your strategies can be strengthened through social networks.
  • Accountability is King.  You have to admire the courage of companies who have had problems with customer service in the past yet they get on social networks with the intention of being accountable.  Transparent. Real.  The buck stops with the managers who run these customer service accounts on Twitter Facebook and other apps.  I suspect there are those B2B and B2C companies who lack the courage to do this, to be accountable for their customer service performance in real-time over social networks.  Yet it is only a matter of time until one of their competitors decides to target their customer base with exceptional support, service and introductory offers, no doubt winning many over.
  • Drive and measure metrics by strategy not by social network.  This mindset needs to dominate companies who are adopting social media.  It is the only way to see if the investment is paying off or not.  Measuring customer satisfaction by which support channels most contributed to its growth instantly shows the relative value of staffing Twitter and Facebook accounts with support specialists and managers for example.  Using metrics to measure engagement and interest rather than just extrapolating click-based activity is a far better predictor of a sales lead. Segmenting audiences using social networking tools for list and audience management are far more effective in generating feedback on new product ideas than broadcasting it to an entire Twitter follower base.  Define your strategic objectives for the year and then map in social networking strategies where they can make the most contribution.  This is a great way to make sure social networking initiatives and strategies don’t go off on their own tangent.
  • Staying ahead of the content curve by finding passionate contributors, using collaboration systems is critical.  On social networks it’s been shown time and again that you get what you give.  When it comes to content, the fresher and more relevant, the more valuable entire marketing, selling and service strategies become.  Consider using collaboration technologies internally to get all the relevant content in your company organized, and use unstructured data analysis tools to fully use this content as well.

Bottom line: Strengthening your marketing, PR, selling and customer service strategies with social networks deliver more measurable and relevant results than focusing on social networks alone.

Flickr attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/silvertje/3582297307/

What Customer-Driven Manufacturing Looks Like Up Close

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems
Walking through the doors of the Siemens Energy and Automation Plant in Norwood, Ohio you immediately get a sense of the legacy this manufacturing plant has and the intense, even obsessive focus on customers driving it into the future.  This plant has been in continuous operation for over 100 years at this location and is the leading producer of electric motors in North America.  There are plaques just outside the front door older than anyone reading this, and inside there is this obsessive focus on excelling at each engine manufacturing task to delight customers.

What amazed me about my visits there was how obsessed the culture of this manufacturing plant is with their customers. In literally every conversation, from manufacturing supervisors to product specialists and production engineering, everyone sees their jobs from how it contributes to meeting customers’ expectations.  This plant reverberates with a customer-centric focus.

Defining Their Own Destiny with a Passion for Customer-Driven Manufacturing

My second visit was during a low point of the recession.  You’d expect morale to be low and a pessimistic mindset to pervade the plant.  But I didn’t find that at all; what I did find were manufacturing teams that had an incredible intensity about quality.  They were obsessed about quality and customer satisfaction. This plant continually strives to improve its quoting, product configuration, pricing and production processes, they never stop. You literally cannot have a conversation in this plant with anyone where the word customer does not come up within five minutes. It’s no wonder they won 2009 Plant of the Year from Plant Engineering Magazine.  Be sure to watch this video and meet the folks who saved a plant by being obsessed with quality and customer-driven manufacturing.

Bottom line: Customer-centric manufacturing is more than a manta; it’s a process-driven strategy that is transformational and can keep manufacturing plants over 100 years old still fighting and winning customer deals daily.

Disclosure: Siemens Energy and Automation Plant is a Cincom customer and we congratulate them on winning 2009 Plant of the Year. 
Flickr attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44431572@N00/4042504006/sizes/l/