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May 2012 Archives

Customers So Valuable That a Start Up Is Hiring Them

Posted by Bill Lee on May 31, 2012 at 02:57 PM

File this under The Hidden Wealth of Customers. Popular firms like Under Armour, Urban Outfitter and Skull Candy (popular headphone maker) are outsourcing customer service to a Salt Lake City start up called Needle. Needle provides the service by hiring its clients' "raving-fan" customers and paying them 10 bucks an hour or so.The reasoning (which is quite familiar to readers of this blog): customers in need of service would rather talk to other passionate customers than, say, someone in India working off a script. USA Today's Jefferson Graham gives a nice account of the details. As Needle's CEO Morgan Lynch puts it, "We as shoppers want to engage with people who actually own these products and services, as opposed to someone who really doesn't."

The example of ways in which companies derive considerable value from customers--value that can go way beyond anything they buy--are increasingly well known to this community. But I do believe this is the first time I've heard of an outside start up  company that is harvesting such value. 

Customers So Valuable That a Start Up Is Hiring Them

Posted by Bill Lee on May 31, 2012 at 02:55 PM

File this under The Hidden Wealth of Customers. Popular firms like Under Armour, Urban Outfitter and Skull Candy (popular headphone maker) are outsourcing customer service to a Salt Lake City start up called Needles. Needles provides the service by hiring its clients' "raving-fan" customers and paying them 10 bucks an hour or so.The reasoning (which is quite familiar to readers of this blog): customers in need of service would rather talk to other passionate customers than, say, someone in India working off a script. USA Today's Jefferson Graham gives a nice account of the details. As Needles' CEO Morgan Lynch puts it, "We as shoppers want to engage with people who actually own these products and services, as opposed to someone who really doesn't."

The example of ways in which companies derive considerable value from customers--value that can go way beyond anything they buy--are increasingly well known to this community. But I do believe this is the first time I've heard of an outside start up  company that is harvesting such value. 

Simplicity Is The New Green

Posted by Bill Lee on May 21, 2012 at 01:35 PM

... or at least, today's best competivie differentiator. The world seems to consipire to make our choices ever more numerous, our information gathering ever more perplexing, our lives ever more complictated. Your competitors are doing this too. And there's your opportunity. 

Stop trying so hard to WOW! your cusotmers, stop striving to offer them every feature they could want and every experience they might wish for. Stop deluging them with choices and information, 98% of which they don't care about. Let your compeitors make things complicated. Stand out by keeping things simple, and making things easy for customers. By making their lives simpler, you'll make your business simpler too.

 

4 Common Pitfalls in Customer Engagement

Posted by Bill Lee on May 17, 2012 at 01:12 PM
from the May issue of Reference Point:

Customer reference programs are generally part of a larger effort to engage with new or returning customers. References or advocates can influence prospects to do everything from attend marketing events, to participate in forums, join customer communities or  help close deals. In doing so, you'll often be part of some larger engagement initiative.

Here are some common pitfalls that one sees in corporate efforts to engage with customers these days. Reference professionals who have experience working with customers in marketing initiatives are in an excellent position to influence cross- functional teams to avoid these pitfalls.

1) Organizing around your brand.

Building customer communities has huge appeal, and can be quite effective to building awareness and fostering growth. But it also risks becoming a fad because a lot of firms try to organize communities around their BRAND, a terrible idea (unless you're someone like Apple of Harley Davidson). Prospects and even customers probably aren't particularly moved by your brand. But they very likely are interested in associating with their PEERS.

 2) TMI

A lot of customer engagement efforts suffer from too much information. You see this on Web sites loaded with tons of technical information that customers don't care about. This is often a symptom of a deeper problem--a firm that isn't sure that specific value their product or service provides to customers--so they tell prospects everything. Reference professionals who've been developing case studies and testimonials for years are well suited to help engagement teams understand exactly what customers really do value about your product or service--and what they don't care about.

 3) All about me!

You see this on a lot of corporate engagement efforts, starting with the company website: lots of information about the company--press releases, latest and greatest products, awards won, etc. The corporate equivalent of narcissism.  Customers who visit your site have to dig around to find something that meets their needs (and they're not going to do this for long, if at all). The marketing firm Eloqua, on the other hand, has experimented with a visitor interface on its website that asks a few quick questions (and they're fun) to understand what the visitors need is first, and THEN guides her to appropriate resources. And as every reference professional knows, the most useful information is often from other customers.

My personal feeling it that company websites should have two things: 1) Customer testimonials in various, user friendly forms, and  2) Customer results, based on objective, verifiable data. Everything else that goes up on your site should be put on trial for its life.

4) Pushing advocacy rather than trustworthy advice.

Marketers in particular can go overboard in trying to drive engagement by driving customers to be relentless cheerleaders--not a good move. A better approach is to encourage trustworthy advice--which is their natural inclination. In the B2C world, Disney has done this with its Moms World Panel, in which Disney World veterans answer questions from mothers who are thinking about going on a family vacation there. Questions can get as detailed as where are the best places to view a parade if you have two small children. Invariably, perfectly tailored responses come back from customer-moms who've been there, done that before.

 

Customer engagement is entering a mature phase where companies are sometimes losing sight of what makes it valuable in the first place. These tips will help you and your customer engagement team members avoid the pitfalls. 

 

 

Signs That Your Organization Is Working Too Hard

Posted by Bill Lee on May 16, 2012 at 02:18 PM

We know that a lot of people are overworked working too hard (and not working smart).  The same is true for organizations. Is yours working too hard? Here are some signs of  impending organizational burnout. A better way to look at them would be as opportunities for reducing labor intensity while dramatically increasing organizational effectiveness.

 By the way, most of these are the result of failing to make choices. 

Producing too many varieties of products that require too many choices by customers.  PCs were famous for piling on features that many customers never noticed—of if they did, they found the plethora of features annoying. Companies can fall into this trap when they don’t think deeply about what their customers really value.

Overloading products with features, most of which customers don't care about or are even unaware of. See above comment. 

“We insist on excellence in everything we do!” This approach is, ironically, a recipe for mediocrity as well as burnout. Carefully choose what you’re good at, don’t obsess over the rest. Southwest Airlines, for example, doesn’t worry about the food they serve,  offering a wide variety of planes to fly, or providing a variety of onboard amenities. Instead, SWA focuses on a few key things: get passengers where they want to go, on time, with their baggage, for a fair price and providing a pleasant experience throughout.

Accepting poor product development success rates. This is often done under the belief that successful product development is a “numbers game.” This can be a legitimate strategy for companies who are coming up with the occasional big winner. Some venture capital firms do this with great success. But it can also be a sign of failing to focus. Steve Jobs famously chided Google for developing way too many mediocre products, rather than decide on just a few and make them memorable,  

Requiring lots of employee training.  Providing lots of employee education and training is considered a virtue. But it can sometimes indicate poor job design—companies do a lot of training because the jobs the place employees in aren’t a natural fit for their abilities. You might see this, for example, at companies that frequently reward  employees for heroic customer service.  What happens is that the heroic employees are clearing up messes due to unreasonable job design in the first place.

Striving for "100% referenceability" with customers.  Do you really need—or want—every one of your customers to be “referenceable?” Some customers should be fired, or ignored.

 “WE’RE going to grow this company ourselves.” Companies are increasingly finding that their customers can significanlty help them grow their business. E-commerce firms, for example, often leave customer service to their customer communities. LEGO and 3M find ways to bring customers into its product development or improvement process, resulting in terrific products its internal developers would never have created.  Customers are naturally far more credible and persuasive than corporate spokespeople or agencies, and thus should provide critical help in marketing.