Steve Jobs: saying goodbye to a master of 1:1 

Steve Jobs memoriam from


Among other things Steve Jobs did well, he was a master at making 1:1 connections. When he shared his enthusiasm for a new product or his delight in an innovation, he managed to engage each member of his audience – whether in person,  online, or on air, and make us feel like he was looking and talking directly to us.

It wasn’t just the “cool” factor or  the great technology made simple that drew in customers and inspired loyalty. He made us feel that he and Apple made those devices especially for us.

Maybe that is why so many had a personal reaction to his death.

Each of us may not have his talent, but we can embrace his commitment to connecting with, not an audience, not “customers”, but with individuals. I’m in. Will you join me?

Epson – A Customer Service Class Act

When it comes to customer service, Epson is a class act.

My husband came home from a business trip to a printer that mysteriously no longer worked with his computer.  He’s pretty technical, so he tinkered. No dice. He went to the Epson website, found the place to submit a case and immediately received an email acknowledgment.  Besides being tech savvy, Tom’s also impatient, so he continued to tinker. Still no dice.

Two hours later, he received an email with things to try to fix his problem. None of the suggestions matched his tinkering – in fact, as he learned later, he probably made it worse.

Fast-forward to the next day. Tom went back to the website, found the Customer Service number and called.  The Customer Service Rep (CSR) asked  his name, phone number and email address. With just that information, the CSR pulled up his record. The CSR noted his email from the day before, noted the last contact he had with them 8 months ago and because their records told them what printer Tom has, started to solve the problem.

The rep spent 40 minutes, first undoing Tom’s tinkering and then fixing the original problem. Wow. My husband was delighted, and he’s a pretty hard grader.

Everything right
Epson has their customer management system wired. They understand that a customer is more than a set of data  and the CSRs have all the information they need at their fingertips. Once Tom identified himself, the CSR didn’t have to ask questions to understand how he fit into the Epson universe: No serial numbers, no purchase dates, no model number. Nada. In terms of a customer support experience, this is first class.

So whether you’re B2B or B2C and have customers – or you’re an organization that has members – when someone contacts you, are you able to easily see how they fit into your universe and relate to them as a “whole”? Make them feel valued and delight them? Or is the information that defines them scattered and hidden in separate systems and various places, requiring you to ask question after question in order to  understand who they are and what they mean to you, not to mention  why they’d call you in the first place?

Where do you stack up?

Tsumani Reporting as User Experience

In the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan, there’s been an wide variation in the way information has been presented as media channels scrambled to be the first with images and news.  I’ve been as compelled as the next person, watching endless versions of the same video and  pictures  – to the point of horrified overload.

Then, thanks to friend’s Facebook postings, I happened upon the following, similar pages: one from ABC News Australia and the other from the New York Times.

Before/after tsunami image- ABC Australia

ABC Australia

Before/after tunami image from NYTimes

New York Times

Both do well what others did poorly, or not at all – they provide context. Each makes it possible to understand specific information in terms of the bigger picture.

If the objective is to inform us in a way that we can make sense of what we see, these pages hit a home run.

  • As information design, they excel:  they communicate clearly without needing a narrative, just simple captions.
  • As user experience, they excel: they’re straightforward, easy-to-use, the interactions follow a consistent pattern. -The user doesn’t have to work at all to “get it.”

Why is this important?
Each page on your site should make it easy for the user to achieve her/his goal in addition to serving your business purpose. Do your key pages resemble early tsunami information presentation? Or have you done the work, as the two sites above have, to make it simple for your user, and therefore more likely that they will do what you want them to do while there? Hopefully it won’t take a disaster to see the bigger picture.

Call Center Spoof is Full of Lessons

It wouldn’t be so funny if it wasn’t so true. The video below first appeared on Belgium television in January 2011. Expand the description to read the story. If you can’t see the English captions, toggle the text bubble in the control panel.

So darn funny; it’s also pitch-perfect.  The creators managed to spoof almost every call center frustration. Who hasn’t been on the receiving end of an experience like this?

And if you’re the one with the call center? How many of the spoofed mistakes are you making by focusing on marketing or internal operational “efficiency” instead of what your customer actually needs in order to get help?

These basic questions just scratch the surface of what it takes to provide a good customer service experience. See how your answers stack up:

  • Do you train (and  monitor) Level 1 customer service reps (CSRs) on how to enter information into your system so that basic information and the customer’s story is clear to others to whom the customer may be transferred?
  • Do all CSRs, including management, have EASY access to the ongoing call record, so they actually refer to it?
  • Do you provide an easy way for the customer (or in the case of the video, the non-customer) to be identified in the system? One that doesn’t require a company-internal number?

Not to mention your Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system –

  • Have you made choices specific instead of vague? And is there a clear option when none of the choices are a fit?
  • Can a customer reach a live person before becoming frustrated out of his/her mind?

So take 10 minutes and sit back and laugh. But if the video resembles your customer service in any way, you’re inadvertently driving customers away. You might want to do something about that!

Unexpected Delight – from a marketing call?!?

Interruptive marketing calls- we all hate them. The only reason I haven’t signed up for the National “Do Not Call” list is professional curiosity.

Well, I got a call last week from a company that said they were contacting me based on my responses to an online form that expressed interest in their service. Yeah, sure.  I asked which site the form was on (suspecting they wouldn’t have an answer),  asked them to take me off their call list, and moved on.

Yesterday, I received the following  snail mail:

Dir Sir or Madam:

First let me apologize for any inconvenience that we may have caused you. As you requested,we have placed your phone number on our internal Do Not Call list. I’ve also enclosed a copy of <company name’s> “Do Not Call” policy.

Again, I sincerely apologize and ask that you contact me directly at <real phone number> if I can be of any further assistance to you.

Vice President of Human Resources

Wow!  I was impressed.  The letter was dated, had the name and number of a real person, and a copy of their “Do Not Call” policy. Thorough, professional and completely unexpected. If I WAS interested in their services, this is exactly the sort of company I’d want to do business with.

In a world where most interactions are answered with computer-delivered confirmations, this response, even though it was basically a form letter,  seemed personal. Why is that? Because they

  • Responded directly to my specific concern
  • Provided a real person to contact
  • Provided specific information that created transparency (the policy, in this case)

My cynical side fully realizes that in fact, this also served as another opportunity to put their name in front of me. Yet I remain impressed. They turned a no-win situation into a win-win situation by using the opportunity to demonstrate their company values. In the process, they provided unexpected delight. A good return for not a lot of effort – and if I ever need their sort of service, they’ll be at the top of my list.

So – which customer equation could you change by applying the same principles?

Pondering the Local Latte

Cafe Santoro, the independent coffee establishment across the street from where I get my car serviced, delivers an integrated experience that is head and shoulders above the one I get at a Peets or Starbucks. In fact, it’s at the top of the delight-o-meter.

I’ve run into other independents around the country that are equally delightful and each has my undying loyalty. Any time I am in hailing distance from one of them, I’ll find the time to stop by.

So, what makes the difference?

I’m a long time coffee aficionado. So why will I seek out what may/may not be technically the best cup of coffee? Aside from the specific charms of each establishment, what do they share that exerts such a pull?

Genuine Engagement
Customers can sense whether someone is genuinely happy to see them/provide them service/interact with them, just going through the prescribed motions, or in truth, couldn’t care less. It makes a difference.

My experience today has just that sort of engagement: I only come to the Santoro when I have work done on my car, so folks here don’t know me. When I came in and joined the line this morning, I noticed the barista (who is also the owner) look up from the espresso machine, and acknowledge each person in line with a smile and “I know what you want.” When he got to me he said “But I don’t know what you want,”and proceeded to ask for my order as if he wanted to get to know me.  It’s rare to experience that sort of smile-producing welcome from a chain.

Chains, even the good ones, are regimented. One of the strengths of a chain is the dependability of the product. But the regimentation of overall experience leaves little room for personality. If a particularly engaging person is on staff, she or he can infuse personality into the atmosphere, but once that individual is gone, the shop goes back to being a variation of the corporate norm.

Independent establishments have an identifiable personality that is a product of personal approach, not just company policy. Patrons “make friends” with that personality.  A great example of this is when the staff at Santoro sang ‘Happy Birthday” to,and joshed around with a customer in line. Ir was the interaction of friends, not patron and provider. They even used the language of friends: “It’s your birthday, let me buy you a latte.”

Not just a cup of coffee
The characteristics that make for a connected, delightful experience don’t just apply to grabbing a cup of coffee.

Genuine engagement is palpable, even online. Personality is important; it’s a telltale sign that humanity is at work, not just policy. Neither personality nor genuine engagement will compensate for out-and-out poor execution, but when price, quality and convenience are equal, these so-called intangibles can strongly influence whether a customer will come back.

What do you think? If your company or organization were a cafe, would I want to come back?

‘Tis the Season

Coincidence or synchronicity?  Less than an hour after I published the previous post, I received Internet Retailer’s email newsletter that included an article on Holiday eCommerce .

“For many larger retailers, Black Friday—the traditional start to holiday shopping on the day after Thanksgiving—is beginning to stretch into a full week with preliminary promotions…” 

If you’re interested in the industry’s analysis, it’s definitely worth the few minutes it takes to read the full article.

Bah, Humbug!

I can’t believe I’m writing this post before Thanksgiving!  I already have a monumental case of holiday email marketing fatigue.

My inbox is already so crowded with Black Friday promotions, it takes me twice as long to get through it. Lord only knows what I’ll face over the weekend, when companies ramp up with Cyber Monday offers.

And I’m just talking email. Mobile alerts? I’m going to need a flak jacket.

The conundrum
On one hand, real-time offers are great. On the other hand, way too many businesses still don’t do enough segmentation (matching specific offers to specific recipients) or any at all – so the relevancy of those real-time offers can be pretty low.

According to Pew Research, as of May 2010,  94% of all internet users sent or read email online and 72% bought products online. So far this season, some companies are already behaving as if capturing the sales of the 22% that forms the gap is life or death. With the economy hurting, companies desperate for revenue are already in bombardment mode. Sophisticated, pretty spam; cheap to send and worth it to them if they just hook a few consumer fish.

We’re all becoming pretty adept at scanning through our inboxes to find the things that matter – one person’s prize is another one’s poison – but it still irks me.

What do you think?

I may already be tired of the onslaught, but what about you?

Do you appreciate a deluge of real-time offers? And even more important, do these offers prompt you to buy? Or has your delete button become a constant, somewhat annoying best friend? What is your experience?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Who Represents Your Brand?

I had an interesting experience this weekend that reminded me that sometimes brand experience is as much about the messenger as the message.

Have a Glass of Wine
House guests in tow, we took advantage of a break in the weekend’s storm and went wine-tasting.  El Dorado County is an up and comer, with some very fine wines coming out of some very off-the-beaten path locations, so we sought out a small, well-respected winery at the end of a mountain road. 

Instead of being greeted when we walked in the door, the person behind the tasting bar (we’ll call her “Ms. X”) looked at us and said almost churlishly, “There are 15 wines, what do you want?”  Huh? With such (a lack of) welcome, we almost turned and walked out, but we’d driven somewhat far and the wines have a good reputation, so we stayed.

You’ve Got To Be Kidding
Instead of telling us about the wines as we tasted, Ms. X poured in bored silence. We had to start the conversation – talking about the storm and the low elevation snow that might shut things down.

Having a wine pourer make the statement “All I need is cigarettes and beer, and I’m happy. And I can walk to the store, if I can’t drive.”  was incredibly shocking. Hello? Appropriateness? You’re pouring WINE. You should be talking about the wine! If you’re partial to beer and cigarettes, keep it to yourself.

Ms. X indicated through conversation that she’d worked there for a while and I wondered whether the winemaker has a clue that she is making his business look bad and costing him money? It’s a common understanding that being hospitable translates into bigger sales, particularly in a face-to-face business. We couldn’t wait to get out of there.

This all made me think of how easy it is for a business to shoot itself in the foot. We think someone working for us is on the same page, so we don’t go over specifics about how we want them to behave with customers, or we think visitors to our website are on the same page, so we don’t make sure to make the experience THEIRS, not ours.

Ms. X  really didn’t care if we were there or not. Our experience seemed irrelevant to her.  I’m thinking of calling the winery this week and talking to the winemaker. His wines are pretty good; this is something he needs to know.

Marketing Through Games

I heard Gabe Zicherman present on the Gamification of Marketing yesterday.  It really woke me up! Here’s Gabe giving a similar talk. It’s long, but worth it:

Gabe’s is a very astute analysis of how games will and already have influenced marketing and loyalty landscape, from S&H Green Stamps in the 1950s through Foursquare. Yes, each is just a game.

His excitement about the possibilities of using games for engagement and how they will transform how we all market whatever it is we’re trying to market, is palpable.  He also made it a point to remind us “the house always wins.”

Cool. So what’s the problem?
I’m torn. It’s exciting to see such a powerful tool and imagine the types of game experiences that could generate user delight in service of achieving a marketing or informational goal. And it’s pretty inevitable that I’ll use a game-based technique sometime in the future.

BUT, from an ethical perspective, I’m uncomfortable with what games as marketing represents: manipulation in a very insidious form. Games are a format that some will no doubt, cynically use to encourage (lull?) the participant into doing something that is not in her/his best interest. It’s capitalizing on what makes state lotteries and slot machines so deadly and extending it into a more universal practice.

Whether or not I’m comfortable with the bigger implication, I’ll make sure to understand how games should be done right. This train has already left the station.

But it begs the question of ethics in marketing and the ethics of games in particular. Does the end justify the means? Where do you stand?