Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The New Norm: Customers Create their own Experience -- can your customers do that?

Remember the whole 'Brick & Mortar vs. e-Tailers' debate. Well, the debate is over. It was a draw. Businesses need both to survive today, and more.

Pottery Barn (See previous blog post "How to Run Your Business Like Pottery Barn")  and other multi-channel merchants have proven that a blended business model is which allows customers to customize their retail experience is a winner.

Consumer's today live in a "make your own experience" world, where:
  • an I-Phone is a blank canvas, onto which each consumer adds a unique set of apps suited to their needs.
  • a twitter handle is a gateway to a universe in which the user selects from over 105million users all with unique information to share and discuss.
  • a face book page is a unique, constantly updating memory album which allows a user to find old friends, make new friends, join groups with similar interests, and socialize with all.
This paradigm shift initiated by technology and completed by individuals has created a "New Normal" business model which must be adopted by retailers and service providers in order to succeed in the Web 2.0 world.

Some retailers and service providers have embraced the Web 2.0 world including:

  • Service provider T.D. Ameritrade has captured the heart of this new normal with it's tag line "Call, Click, or Come In". The customer can customize their relationship with the Online Investment Trading company.
  • Similarly, home furnishings giant Pottery Barn says "Come See Us, Well Come to You, Contact Us Anytime, ...Online Tools"
Pottery Barn's Multi-Channel Approach To Customer Service

Most businesses, however are not ready to launch a 'customer centric-create your own experience' business model because they have neither implemented nor embraced the fundamental tools required.

Ameritrade's tag line "Call, Click, or Come In", a useful tool emerge to evaluate your business model for strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in your current structure and to create from that information and action plan that will take you into a successful "create your own experience customer environment".

If a customer is calling, most likely it is because they could not find the answers they want on your website. So, the customer has already become frustrated. Don't lose your customers because you cannot give them personal on the phone assistance.

In the Harvard Business Review Ideacast "Why Delighting Your Customers Is Overrated", Matthew Dixon, managing director of the Corporate Executive Board's Sales and Service Practice poses the question "How often do consumers cut companies loose because of terrible service?" This is a must read article or must listen podcast (free).

The phone call is the lowest cost, lowest maintenance,easiest part of the "Call, Click, or Come In" strategy. It should be a simple fix involving enhanced customer service training, and a simplified phone tree.
Ante-up! Listening to earnings reports of a multitude of companies over the past two years, it is clear that while companies are slashing expenses including staffing, they are at the same time pouring big money into updating IT to improve efficiencies, operations, and reduce costs.
Lowes recently announced during their Q2 earnings conference call and reiterated during the Tesley Advisor Group Consumer Conference (September 29, 2010) that they had invested in new hardware and software to update their web-site for better consumer interface for goods and services. In addition, the new IT will improve sales tools, customer service tools, and increase sales through better knowledge sharing.

I was astonished by a statement made by JCPenney's CEO during the recent Goldman Sach's Retailer Conference that they were just beginning their foray away from their printed "Big Book" and shifting their focus to smaller catalogs and putting more emphasis on their website. It's unbelievable - literally, that a retailer today would not be completely immersed by now in the "click" portion of the "click or come in" business model.

An 'old fashioned' website is NOT sufficient as a web-presence in 2010: A social media presence is a must. Social media should not be an afterthought, or a task assigned to the summer intern. Rather, social media should be afforded the larger portion of the general marketing budget and resources.

If you are still a 'non-believer' in Twitter, check out these Twitter case studies - it truly is an amazing tool for business. And, as you will read, it can boost sales, improve your brand image, and increase your customer base, however Twitter can also bite you in the behind if you don't join the conversation, because even if you aren't there, your customers are still talking about you and your brand.

For you naysayers who do not believe Twitter is a business tool, I strongly suggest you read Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhood, by Shel Israel.  As noted in an Amazon Review " Twitterville a must read for any business that want to leverage Twitter and doesn't know where to begin." 

Social Media Is about a "conversation" with the customer. It is a shift from telling consumers what they want through print media, TV, and Radio, to listening to conversations between consumers about what they want or like. And, after you have taken time to read, listen, listen some more, (wait...listen a little more) and then engage in conversation. Do not, however try to sell them products. See what you can do to assist them. 

The newest mega marketing tool to hit is Facebook's  "Like" button which has migrated from the pages of Facebook onto every website, blog, online newspaper, and retailer. The "like" button, described as a "tic-tac" sized icon has the power to generate unparalleled marketing information for businesses. With this tiny tool a business can:
  • See how many users already like this page, and which of their friends like it too
  • Read recent posts from the page
  • Like the page with one click, without needing to visit the page
Marketplace summarized the importance to companies of the "Like" button on their October 1st, 2010 podcast. James Fowler, co-author of "Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks" says "When you click on the little thumbs up icon, you hand over your Facebook data to the company and it gets access to your friends' data, too. All of a sudden, they're tapped in to this vast resource that is going to help them to have a much finer picture of each one of their consumers."

Come In

Smart Business are Leveraging their 'brick and mortar' locations to offer more than just the standard or expected service.

Pottery Barn's Retail Stores serve customers not only as a place to touch, feel, and sit on the product, but also as an educational and social meeting place for customers with similar "likes". Pottery Barn customers can learn about 'in store' decorating classes from Twitter, Facebook, Direct Emails, and on their Mail Order Catalogs.
T.D. Ameritrade allows customers who prefer to work with an investment adviser in person to do just that. In addition however they host educational seminars for their online investing clients on Investing from Introduction to Options Trading to Wall Street Weekly Roundups. (They also offer online classes - click!)  Ameritrade is, like Pottery Barn creating an environment for social interaction for people of "like" minds in the local areas. 

And, just in case you are reading this and thinking, "I'm not as big as an Investment Banking Company, or Pottery Barn, so this isn't relevant"...think again! Leon & Lulu is a Family owned furniture retailer in Detroit which is fabulously eccentric while still being cozy, welcoming, and elegant. Mary Liz Curtain and Steven Scannell have opened their store to host local non-profits for fundraisers, meetings, and parties. In so doing, they meet their neighbors and increase their exposure to potential customers while doing so in a social, non selling environment.

So, In summary here is a quick check list for your business
  1. Call -  how is my customer service?
  2. Click - is my IT robust and are we taking advantage of all the Web 2.0 marketing opportunities?
  3. Come In - is my brick and mortar location doing more for my bottom line than just generating sales? Are we leveraging our location and staff to personalize customer relations, improve community relations, generate future sales through social interaction?

Additional Suggested Reading List:

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