Social Marketing – You’ve been framed!

Like a You’ve Been Framed clip of a dancing granny whose had too much sherry and falls into the Christmas tree or watching your uncle trying a bit of hip hop at a family wedding this week’s attempt by UK supermarket chain Waitrose to “get social” was both hilarious and deeply worrying at the same time.

Waitrose this week challenged shoppers to “finish the sentence: ‘I shop at Waitrose because …’ #WaitroseReasons“. It backfired spectacularly as Twitter users piled in to ridicule the brand for its posh image.

The failure to understand social media is not restricted to Waitrose though.  Marketing departments globally have been guilty of failing to understand social media. Using for example Linkedin groups to promote your brand is like breaking wind in a tent and many organizations are abandoning their Facebook marketing strategies due to mixed results.

Social networks take conversations to a hyper level. The key word is conversations. Conversations are not about broadcasting marketing messages via social media channels nor are they about scanning or listening to social media networks for your company name. Conversations involve participants both talking and listening, not broadcasting and monitoring. Using social networks as a marketing channel is doomed to failure. As we have seen with Waitrose failure to understand social media can harm your brand and make you look completely out of touch.

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Customer Experience in !ONLY! 2 Steps

Technology analysts and consultants don’t like to keep things simple. It’s obvious really since simple isn’t good for business. It’s much better to provide things like decision matrices, toolkits, 10 step programs and maturity assessments than to provide clear and concise opinions or recommendations.

So it is with Forrester’s recent customer experience book “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business”. The authors recommend a set of six practices for organizations that want to deliver high-quality customer experience namely: strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture. While I agree that these are all important considerations if I was a business owner looking to quickly begin the transformation of customer experience and was told by an analyst that I had to carry out Design, Measurement and Governance, oh and while you’re at it change your culture as well I’d immediately think this is going to be too complex and costly. When it comes to customer experience are we over complicating things?

So it is with a little trepidation that I’m going to stick my neck out and say that rather than 6 practices or a tool kit or a matrix there are two, yes only two, steps to improving Customer Experience. These are:

1. Fix Broken Processes.

Customer experience is often defined as how customers perceive their interactions with your company. The key word here is interactions. Each one of these interactions is a business process. Many of Customer Experience leaders just execute their business processes properly. I don’t enjoy shopping on Amazon or visiting Tesco but I return because they deliver their services efficiently.

  • Take the customer journey and ask yourself is this process working fine or does it need fixed, could it be simpler? Then move on to next process. Simplify business processes where possible. Ensure consistency of approach across multiple channels.
  • Automate business processes where appropriate in order to free up your employees to focus on the customer and where they add most value.

This brings me to my second step.

2. Empower your employees

It is impossible to predict and to define a process for every customer scenario. Customers are unpredictable. This is where you need your employees to fill the gaps your processes can’t reach. But they can’t fill the gaps unless they are permitted to do so.

Does your employee really need approval to provide compensation for poor customer service? Does he or she need approval to match the offer of a competitor? Do your employees have all the customer information they need to make a decision?

We know customers hate having to talk to multiple agents, rude or inexperienced staff and being kept on hold. They love professionalism and getting issues resolved at the first point of contact.  You won’t achieve any of this if your employees aren’t empowered. Your employees are the face of your organization, do you really want that face to be a demotivated, inflexible, rude one?

So how do we start to empower employees?

  • Devolve as much of the non-strategic decision making from the center of the organization to the periphery and to your customer facing employees. For example customer compensation decisions, renewal decisions, process changes can all be carried out at the edge of the organization.
  • Address customer data siloes. Ensure agents whether on the phone on in the retail outlet have access to all of the customer data to enable them to make more informed decisions.
  • Don’t tie agents to processes or fixed scripts.
  • Automate mundane or repetitive tasks to free agents to focus on process exceptions and unique, unpredictable customer problems.

So forget about six step customer experience plans, maturity assessments and decision matrices. If you want to start on a customer experience improvement journey the best bet is to do it one process at a time.

Is Customer Experience Really Business Process Excellence?

Customer Experience is a strange term for companies that basically execute their processes properly. The word “Experience” gives the impression that you enjoy using the product or service yet in our day to day lives we engage with the majority of businesses on a transactional basis. We are looking for efficiency and delivery rather than enjoyment. Failure to understand this has led many organizations down the wrong path of trying to deliver customer experience rather than what they should be focusing on, process excellence.

In part the cult of Customer Experience has been driven by lifestyle brands such as Apple, Disney, Nike brands we enjoy using because they are associated with leisure experiences. For the majority of businesses I engage with on a regular basis; banks, retail outlets, dentists, utilities all I want from them is efficiency and delivery on their commitments. Nothing more. I certainly don’t want my bank to start giving me discounted hotel bookings (they do), my ISP to give me tickets to the football (they did) or my dentist to give neck rubs (not yet).

Is it possible to have a customer experience at the dentist or with the company you’ve hired to unblock your drains? I go to the dentist to have a problem with my teeth fixed and I’ll return if they do their job properly and efficiently. Same goes for my bank. At the moment my own bank in the UK is so dysfunctional I’m impressed if they can switch the lights on in the morning. I’m currently in the process of switching bank because they failed in basic service delivery not because they failed to deliver an experience.

When I change banks I don’t want an experience with my new bank either. In fact considering the state of my account the less interaction with my bank the better. I don’t need coffee or some faux joviality from the agent when I’m in the bank. Like the dentist I want them to execute their processes as painlessly as possible.

In many cases I think that companies that are defined as leaders in Customer Experience really deliver Business Process Excellence. I’m not denying that Customer Experience doesn’t exist. Yes there are brands and companies that deliver process excellence and who are enjoyable to do business with but these tend to be lifestyle brands. For many businesses struggling to handle the double whammy caused by web retail and the recession and being seduced by Customer Experience I say forget about it. Focus on your business processes first.