Tag Archives: Customer experience

Taking One For The Team

When was the last time, other than The Super Bowl, that you actively watched an ad? I suspect that you’re like me and you’re actively doing what you can to avoid seeing ads at all costs. You wear out the buttons on the remote or you record your favorite shows and watch them later. You might even have jumped into the camp of those of us who pay not to see ads. We pay Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or all three to watch the content we love in an uninterrupted way. I pay SiriusXM not to hear my favorite music interrupted by product ads (still can’t seem to avoid those promos, although they’re usually appropriate to the content I’m consuming).

Then there is the web, both computer-based and mobile. It makes a NASCAR vehicle seems as uncluttered and virgin as the newly fallen snow. Pop-ups, pop-unders, hidden ads that spew sound from a minimized window, multiple windows popping in succession, far too fast for the consumer to read but quickly enough to record an ad displayed and a marketer charged. It’s a nightmare.

Let me digress. There is one topic we hit hard here in the screed: customer experience. We’ve covered the customer service rep that screws you over, the faulty products delivered without shame or recourse, and the airline that my friends and I call “Air We Don’t Care” (actually our name is a little different and a lot more obscene). We’ve also covered the other side of that – the customer service rep that goes the extra mile and solves your problem beyond your expectations. All of that relates to what is called the user experience in the digital world.

It’s nice to see that there are finally a number of publishers who recognize that a focus on user experience over driving maximum revenue call pay off in the long run. Digiday ran a piece about it, explaining how some brave publishers are overcoming their fear of losing money in favor of cultivating a more loyal audience. It finally dawned on these publishers that people aren’t coming for the ads.

I spent many years selling media. I know that our customer is really the marketer and their agency. However, in order to attract those customers, we need to have viewers and readers that consume our content – a LOT of our content – and keep coming back for more. Improving the user experience makes that happen even if it might cause a temporary drop in page views, ads displayed, and revenue. Heck, when even the NFL is recognizing that they have to reformat their games to speed them up and make the ads less intrusive (a better user experience!), all other content providers need to take notice.

Is the sales department taking one for the team as the editorial group improves the user experience? Probably in the short term, yes. But in a world where ad-blockers, remote controls, DVR’s, and streaming rule, it’s a smart sacrifice in my eyes. You?

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Lose The Ego Or Lose The Customer

It bewilders me that some businesses can’t put their customers‘ needs ahead of their own. I’m going to tell you yet another horrific tale of business stupidity but first, a little data to support my point.

The folks at Marketing Sherpa did some research and they found the following:

When asked about the marketing of the company they were highly unsatisfied with, the top way unsatisfied customers described the company’s marketing was — not customer-first. This description was more frequent than complaining about privacy issues or intrusive, boring or irrelevant marketing. “The company does not put my needs and wants above its own business goals” was chosen by 35% of unsatisfied respondents.

With that as context, let me show you this in action. A friend of mine bought a car recently from a car dealership with which she had done business in the past. Her previous experience was good enough that she went back to them to buy from them again. This time, things were quite different.

The car died in her driveway after a few weeks of use. The battery died and the car wouldn’t jump-start. When she bought the car, she was told to bring the car to the dealership in the event of any issues and they’d take care of her. She did as she was told and had the car towed to the dealership. Despite the lip-service paid to a customer-centric focus, the service department said they’d charge her $165 for a new battery even though the car is still under warranty. If she wanted it fixed under warranty, it would have to be moved to a Ford dealer. Strike one.

The dealership said they’d arrange for the car to get to the Ford folks “as a courtesy.” That was Thursday. It’s now Monday morning and the car still hasn’t moved. Strike two. My friend has been calling and emailing to no avail. She is in the process of renting a car – the dealership didn’t mention a loaner. Strikes three and four.

I’m beginning my search for a new car – do you think this dealership is under consideration? Do you think my friend will tell her friends to rush over to purchase from these folks or will she caution them to avoid the dealership like a plague? The dealership had its main need addressed – they sold a car, in part by doing a great job in addressing the customer’s needs and wants at the time. They are unwilling or unable to focus on the customer beyond the sale nor can they put the customer’s needs above their own goals (servicing a car that’s under warranty takes time and reduces margin). This is a perfect example of what the research cited above shows since in my mind customer service (or lack thereof) is part of the marketing mix – a critically important part. Do you see the problem?

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Unkept Promises, Ungathered Feedback

Last week I wrote about how a company with which I did business became a source of annoyance. I realize that the odds are slim that they read the piece, especially since they, through a surrogate, managed to do something even more annoying than spam a good customer.

A few days ago, I got an email from a company who was acting on behalf of the golf ball reseller with whom I had done business. The email lead with “We want to hear your opinion. It will take less than 15 seconds” and featured the logo of the reseller. It further stated that the company:

asked us to contact you to hear about your experience regarding your recent order. Your ratings and comments, whether positive or negative, will help improve their customer service. Your review is also valuable information for new customers who are considering shopping with this company. All feedback will be made public, we will not publish your name.

Scrolling down through the mail, I just had to award 1 to 5 stars, which I did. When I hit the link to enter, I was taken to a website which asked me to write a few words of feedback about my transaction. No problem, at least not until I tried to submit my review. You see, the page wouldn’t submit until I had also written a review of each of the three brands of balls I had ordered, leaving stars for each one as well as several words of text. The 15 seconds (actually quite a few more) being up, I closed the browser tab, feedback, rating, and review unsubmitted.

Yet another thing we can’t do in marketing. We can’t make promises that we know won’t be kept. Asking for “15 seconds” of my time is fine. Requiring many more seconds (minutes, actually) under a false pretense isn’t. The feedback I left initially was my opinion (positive, by the way) of the transaction as well as the quality of what I had received. It would have served to encourage people to do business with this company since they deliver what they promise at an excellent value. Instead, they got nothing, because a vendor they had hired put a gun to my head and demanded I write multiple reviews and wouldn’t take what I had written for them until I did so.

It’s a customer-centric world, folks. You can’t turn a happy customer into one that is left with a bad taste in their mouth because of something you want, not the customer. And for goodness sake, don’t promise anything that you won’t deliver, OK?

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Football First Day Fails

Yesterday was the first full day of the NFL season, and just as many teams found out that their pre-season prep was nothing like the real thing, so too did a couple of very high-profile companies. The challenges they faced and how they handled them are instructive.

The two companies I mean are ESPN and DirecTV. Both had very prominent fails yesterday. In ESPN’s case, it was their fantasy football site. Yesterday around kickoff time (1pm ET / 10am PT) ESPN’s fantasy sports platform crashed and became unreachable on the web and in their mobile app. If you’re a fantasy football player, that is about the worst possible time for a crash since not only can’t you follow your team and league in real-time (frustrating) but you also couldn’t make last-minute changes to your lineup (angering and potentially expensive!). By the start of the late games several hours later, it was still down, leaving 7+million unhappy players.

At least ESPN’s service is free. In DirecTV’s case what failed costs $50 a month. Also starting at 1pm ET, people noticed buffering and quality issues on the streaming service, with some not being able to access a stream at all. The rage was palpable and between the two failures, Twitter exploded (with some of the responses being pretty funny).

What’s instructive are a couple of things. First, no matter how good a product or service is as an idea or in a marketing campaign if you can’t execute it’s garbage. Execution is more important in many cases than the product itself. Second, how you deal with the customers who are inconvenienced by your faulty execution can either save you or dig the hole to grave-depth. ESPN was totally transparent, admitting the outage, apologizing, and posting updates throughout. When things were fixed, they said:

“ESPN Fantasy is restored and we will continue to monitor. We identified a backend data access issue and resolved as quickly as possible. The issue did not impact data for teams, leagues or rosters. We sincerely apologize to all ESPN fantasy users.”

Transparent and sincerely apologetic. DirecTV, on the other hand, was at first not replying to customer service tweets at all. Once they did, replied to a number of complainers suggesting they check their computer settings or that they call a help line. Needless to say, that line was not in service at first. Other people were given a link to a page that helped you fix account access issues which were clearly not the problem. At no point did DirecTV acknowledge a system wide problem nor did they apologize. I imagine they didn’t however, have any issues cashing the $50 payments from all users.

Clearly, the best solution to a major problem at a critical time is to assure it doesn’t happen in the first place. That said, stuff happens. There are no secrets anymore, and your service and support problems become very visible very quickly. These two companies took two different paths after the issues arose. Which will you take?

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I’ll Take Bad Ads

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going into a store where the staff is charming and can’t do enough for you, but you left without buying anything.  You’ve also probably seen a wonderful product description in some online store, only to get to the customer reviews and find out that the product wasn’t nearly as good as the advertising.  That is a truism in marketing:  good ads can’t sell a bad product.  Conversely, even the worst marketing can’t keep a great product out of consumers’ hands.   Give me the bad ads every time and a great product.

I put customer experience right in there as part of product.  That experience isn’t just customer service.  It’s any engagement your product and brand has with a customer – social media, email, etc.   Since the product is more important than advertising, improving those engagements can yield a significant competitive advantage.  Having an ongoing, transparent, truthful series of interactions with your customers as well as consumers at large will probably have a larger effect on your business than doubling the ad budget.  You want to improve your product without retooling, repackaging, or developing a better formula?  Improve the customer experience and you’ve done so.

So why aren’t brands spending more to improve those engagements and the products they support?  Beats me.  Maybe it’s because they didn’t have it in last year’s plan.  Maybe it’s because you can’t run that on TV.  Maybe because we tend to emphasize creativity over basic blocking and tackling. Whatever the root, it’s something to think about.

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Rusty Tanks And Being Ripped Off

20 or so years ago, we installed two large propane tanks to power our cooktop and a new furnace. Since they have an expected lifespan of about 15 years, we asked someone from our propane company to come take a look at them. We had noticed they were rusting a little, so better safe than sorry, right? Sure enough, they need replacing. How this leads to us replacing the propane supplier as well is a tale from which any business can learn.

English: 2 larger propane tanks, one with a re...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have been very happy with this company. Service has always been prompt, they deliver on a regular schedule and we’ve never run out of propane. That was the case when we called this time to come have a look at the tanks – they were there the next day and came back to us with a proposal to replace the tanks. We made an appointment for later this week to have the work done.

Just out of curiosity, we made a couple of phone calls to other suppliers. What we found out enraged us. Not only was what our supplier proposing to charge us to remove and dispose of the tanks way out of line with the market, but what they had been charging us for propane over the last decade was substantially higher as well. I’m talking about higher to the tune of over $1 a gallon, and when you’re using several hundred gallons a year, that’s a big difference.

In addition, these guys never offered us the ability to “lock in” a price for a heating season. Our oil supplier, as an example, sends us a letter every year with three different lock in options. It shouldn’t surprise you that when our supplier called to confirm the appointment, we cancelled it, informing them that we’re talking to other suppliers and had discovered that we were being ripped off for years.

10 minutes later, the phone rang. Suddenly, the cost to remove the tanks had vanished. Our rate for propane had dropped a lot, and we could lock it in for the year if we so chose.  While we still might stay with them, our opinion of them has changed substantially.  Customer service isn’t just about answering the phone and handling issues when they arise.  It is caring for your customer even when they don’t know that they need care.  Would we pay a little more for great service?  Probably.  The propane is a commodity so the difference is service.  That needs to have transparency, and now that we see what that service has been costing us, we are angry.

There are no secrets anymore.  Yes, it’s our fault for not asking about pricing and plans, I suppose.  That, however, demonstrates the value in keeping customers happy.  We didn’t ask because we were happy with them.  Now that we have asked and have realized that this has meant the overpayment of thousands of dollars over the years, we are far less content.  If you’re keeping customers happy by keeping them in the dark, you had better be damn sure there isn’t a rusty tank out there waiting to expose the issue.  Is there?

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Lightening The Load

If there is one thing that seems to have happened over the last 15 years, it’s the growth of ADD.  That’s right – it seems as if most of us have some sort of Attention Deficit Disorder which manifests itself via an inability to stay focused and patient as we use our devices.  After all, what’s more frustrating than clicking on a link and waiting and waiting and waiting for the page to load?  Sometimes it’s due to a lousy connection to the internet.  Most of the time, however, it’s probably due to how the publisher has built the page.  I can hear you muttering that “he’s gone all wonky today” but stay with me.  There is a broader business lesson here.

Web pages are a series of elements.  The page code processes them and does everything from display pictures to send analytics data to a server  to format text to pull ads out of a marketplace.  Each of these things takes a little time and the more of them there are, the longer it takes the page to load.  Graphics intensive content – slide shows, autoplay videos, etc. – take a VERY long time to get ready.  I think part of why people use ad blockers is because they very often cut load times substantially.

GQ, according to an article I read in Digiday, focused on decreasing page load times.   Maybe that was less convenient for their writers or editors, but they decluttered their article pages, moved to a unified content management system, and did some other things that resulted in an 80% decrease in page load times.  That focus on their reader has paid off:

For GQ, having a faster site, along with features like new article pages and article recommendation widgets, has paid off in helping audience growth. Traffic jumped to 11 million uniques in July, the first full month of the relaunch, from 6 million in June, per the site. (Those are the site’s internal Omniture figures; comScore’s July numbers weren’t available at press time). Median time spent on the site rose to 7.8 minutes in July, from 5.9 in June. The benefits have extended to advertisers. With people spending more time on the site, along with bigger and repositioned ad units, the interaction rate on ads rose 108 percent.

The lesson for any of us is that staying focused on the customer experience pays off, sometimes in ways we don’t anticipate (who would have thought ad interaction would rise!).  Maybe lightening the load made their wallets heavier. Not a bad tradeoff, right?

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