Archive for the ‘customer support’ Tag

10 Recommendations for Socially Enabling the Customer Lifecycle

We have had a lot of discussions as of late around how to socially enable the customer lifecyle. Also, begs the question “What does that mean?”

First, we are talking about how you manage customers from awareness, through interest, purchase, delivery, support, repeat, and referral. Depending upon your market, how complicated your sales process, channels, etc. this will vary to a degree, but we are talking about managing a customer from cradle to grave ( hopefully “not” grave). Companies are paying a lot of money for business intelligence systems, CRM systems, contact center, marketing and sales technologies to try and address the challenges around the heightened customer expectations.

Customers do not want the disjointed, endless closed loop frustrations of trying to manage a relationship with a company who doesn’t understand that customers choose from whom they receive “service”. This customer experience is bleeding through into marketing and sales with the ability to mass distribute customer complaints. We have all seen the blogs, tweets, viral videos, etc.

The company that can enable a sustained and coherent engaged relationship with a customer from introduction through purchase and repeat purchases will see a decline in customer churn, increase in referrals, and a decrease in the cost of customer acquisition. Bottom line is that better engagement with your customers leads to a better bottom line. The “means to an end” in this is through social media, online communities, collaboration, web 2.0, etc. type technologies that enable individuals to engage and interact online. Huge wins in terms of brand equity, customer satisfaction, and understanding of buyer behavior, beyond streamlining the service and support processes.

To that end, we spend a lot of time working with companies to design this roadmap since many are still trying to figure out how to get started, let alone walk or run. As we do a good number of presentations on what a roadmap looks like, we thought that we would share the high-level framework in the spirit of “give to get”; which is the basis of social marketing. Here is our recommendations:

  1. Find out what your market is saying. If you aren’t, you have no idea literally.
  2. Have a plan to engage with them on social networks, blogs, video, etc
  3. Build a good “fishing program” for lead generation
  4. Identify the top places, people, and discussions that your market is engaging
  5. Build relationships online as you would a good PR or business development program
  6. Build engaging content that will educate, entertain, or influence your market
  7. Build an online community for your customers, prospects,  and partners
  8. Listen to what they have to say, measure it, and respond to it
  9. Build an online community for your organization to collaborate and to engage employees
  10. Integrate your applications, corporate content, processes, and data into the community

Corporate Social Media Roadmap

One of my contacts on Twitter posted a reply back that “Social Media is a Fad”. I have been thinking about that for the last couple of days. There is a tremendous amount of momentum around leveraging social media for business. This isn’t the first time that I have heard this in the last several months, but I guess perception is reality.

So, to that end, I have outlined a social media roadmap for those who are trying to “figure out” if the hype will lead to something real. I have been around enough to have seen this conversation a few times; websites, ecommerce, web applications, and now social media. This simple roadmap is targeted to those who want to do something, but are having a hard time presenting a business case, especially in this economy.

Social Media “Crawl”

  • Make sure your team has a complete profile on Linkedin –It would be nice if they were on Plaxo, Facebook, Twitter, etc.; but make sure that the profiles are complete and up-to-date; including past roles. For a lot of potential buyers, awareness of your company comes through an employee’s profile. Make sure they have a good impression.
  • Make sure that everyone has the same basic description– For the company, links to the various pages on the website (including one to careers). Also, make sure there is consistency in the company name (ie. Abbreviations, LLC on the end, Website name, etc)
  • Create a social media policy for employees– There is a fine line between personal and private. Social media can blur that line, especially on Facebook with pictures. Make sure that policy also includes connections to partners, vendors, customers, and other employees. I am not recommending that you curtail their ability to interact with online relationships, but make sure there is protection for the company.

Social Media “Walk”

  • Inventory Corporate Online Relationship Networks – You will be amazed at who your team is connected and no one else knew it. “I needed someone who could do this” or “We need an introduction to X”.
  • Identify who or which companies are missing – a key to successful networking is getting outside your own network. A lot of times it is the 3rd degree relationships that can produce the greatest opportunities.
  • Run a networking program for employees – Sales people and Executives generally know how to network, but the vast majority of employees don’t. But, they represent the vast majority or potential introductions as they had lives and experiences prior to joining the company.
  • Build an Online Relationship Campaign– This isn’t going out and collecting 25,000 random twitter followers, but building online relationships (across multiple social media sites) with the key influencers, bloggers, buyers, vendors, and participants in your industry. If the saying is “Sell where the customer is…” ; you need to start a program of connecting to them online.
  • Start an enterprise blog on your website– designate a team approach to creating an online thought leadership center for your company. Tie your blog updates to your social media participation. I update my Linkedin, Twitter, & Facebook every time I create a new post. It provides content and value for your connections; at the same time, creates a call to action for your website.
  • Cross Pollinate Your Traditional Marketing Database with your Social Media Contacts– I add all of the new contacts that I meet into my Linkedin and other social media accounts. Social CRM is becoming the new “hot” thing as companies are trying to manage the multiple (potential) customer communication channels.
  • Multi-Channel Marketing now Includes Social Media– I have been integrating my social media contacts into an email campaign list that I send my weekly blog digest. I have gotten a tremendous boost to my blog traffic by integrating email, social media, and traditional networking. A multi-channel, integrated approach allows you to reach the potential customer where and how they want to communicate. Especially with our busy schedule and email overload, don’t assume because they did not repsond that they are not interested. They may not have really “seen” the message.
  • Be Respectful– don’t SPAM your social contacts with random messages. Make sure that what you send them provides value to your network. They may not want to buy, but they will respect your attempt at providing value to the relationship and credentialing your thought leadership.

Social Media “Run”

  • Building your own online community into your corporate website – Use social media components to create a more compelling interaction on your website. Also, this provides great search engine optimization, thought leadership, differentiation, lead qualification, customer experience management, etc.
  • Build public, semi-private, and private group areas in your community– Provide value without a login through public groups, but encourage them to sign up (membership) to see a lot more. The private group areas are then used to continue the sales pursuit and provide individualized customer support.
  • Integrate your community with your marketing and sales activities– By integrating your online community, you provide a call-to-action for your outbound sales and marketing efforts. Also, this allows you to leverage your corporate website more effectively during the transition from marketing awareness and interest to sales process and lead management.
  • Integrate your community with Social Networking sites– Google, Facebook, and Linkedin all have member APIs that allow someone to use their membership in third-party communities. This removes one major obstacle for people to participate; the dreaded sign-up.
  • Integrate your community with your Enterprise Systems– Integrating your existing content and data with your online community is important because it allows you to leverage the investment in your existing CRM, ECM, etc. systems more effectively.
  • Leverage Web Analytics and Lead Scoring –An online community provides a trememdous amount of interaction data that can be measured, scored, and utlized for lead qualification.

Social Media “Sprint”

  • Integrate your business processes with your online community – Customizing the interactions of the community for your business processes; customer experience management, sales support, Call-center, project delivery, supply chain, partner management, etc. This means that different audiences interact within the community, but have personalized experiences based upon their roles and goals. I serve up a different forecasting dashboard in the Product Management Group versus the Sales Group.
  • Reimagining your Information Architecture– Some of the leading organizations are rethinking the traditional ideas around organizational Intellectual Property. They are begining to build flexible information architectures whereby the “community” is really the presentation layer for their corporate systems. They build interfaces as “application mashups”. Your access to information and applications is based upon just-in-time rights management. If I am working on a project, I get invited to the project group that has all of the project history, notes, documents, and applications that I need to interact with the project team. This also then is extended outside the organization to partners and customers. The enterprise is no longer a “castle” with a moat and a drawbridge, but a modern city with buildings, doors, locks, security systems, etc. This allows for more effecient business scalability.

At the end of the day, I don’t see social media as a fad. I think the hype factor will dimish along with the effectiveness some of the early adopters have been able to drive, but I see online social interaction as the next logical step in the evolution of the web and business.

Unhorsing an Entrenched Competitor

Since my last post was about first mover advantage https://rosenhaft.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/web-marketing-leveraging-first-mover-advantage-on-the-web/, this post will be a how-to on enter a market with an entrenched, but less capable competitor. The assumption is that your offering is of superior quality or has unique attributes for the market at large. There are different strategies for purely niche products, “me-too”, or purely local offerings that are the subject for later posts. This post is for that company that has developed a better mouse-trap and needs a market entry strategy to unhorse an less capable, but established competitor.

My last post discussed the micro-economics behind the marketing and this post will do the same. Displacing a competitor is all about two costs:

1. Opportunity Costs – the value of your opportunity outweighs the switching costs; time, money, resources, pain, risk, etc.

2. Switching Costs – hard AND soft costs; time, money, resources, training, risk, pain, etc.

The entrenched competitors barriers to exit are your customers barriers to entry for your offering. Many companies under estimate the switching cost equation in displacing a competitor. Many times a company has a much better offering than their entrenched competitor, but cannot seem to get traction. When you di deeper, you find out that there is much more to the “cost” of switching beyond features or a small price difference. You find out a customer has to go through extensive training, has an extended contract that is not up for renewal, or doesn’t perceive the value of the offering as worth the hassle of switching for such a small price savings.

The keys to switching are really about changing the rules of the market. Bringing something new in terms of capabilities, changing the cost structure through planned commoditization, providing a different focus, bringing a targeted solution, AND FINALLY – being easier-to-do business.

Major Factors

1. Price –  Competing on price alone is a very difficult as it actually devalues the offering and discourages loyalty. “Cheep” is different than “economies of scale”. At the onset of the article, I positioned “me-too” offerings as a different strategy. This is why… “me-too @ a lower cost” has a place in the spectrum of the market targeting the cost-conscious buyer. Knock-offs are a good example; however, this takes a different type of positioning to target the cost-conscious buyer with a specific call-to-action. This is a particular market strategy that, in reality, is a niche. If done poorly, or not by design, it can lead to devaluation and rampant commoditization. If you can match the quality with 20% less cost, you generally can attract a portion of the market’s attention depending upon the industry and the competitor (see relationship below).

2. Capabilities – Features & Functionality – This is the secret-sauce approach. We are better because we can provide better capabilities that the competitor cannot. This may be a segment of the market or the whole market depending upon your capabilities. Features tend to not be sufficient on their own to motivate switching.

Better functionality may not necessarilymotivate a buyer to switch either. If you are higher priced with better functionality, you will have trouble with major displacement . The cost factor will be weighed into the equation unless your capabilities significantly change the buyers value equation; ie you save them much more money than the offering’s cost. “Our product saved the buyer 35% in processing time which translated into $250,000 in savingsover 3 years.” If your product costs $75,000 installed, which is $25,000 more than your competitors, but you save them $$225,000 in total cost over 3 years, you can make a case for displacement. If you are more expensive and cannot calculate a hard $ ROI, you will have to rely on a combination of techniques for displacement. For products that are truly revolutionary in which you change the cost structure of the market, you can introduce a lower price, and show a better ROI; then you have an opportunity to displace a large part of the market.

3. Relationship – Customer Support /Responsiveness /Ease-of-Use / Easy-to-Do-Business – Most companies provide mediocre service by definition. Whether by scale issues, complacency, or distraction; a majority of entrenched industry players are vulnerable to displacement based upon customer dissatisfaction. The notable exceptions are the ones that really shine. Service is particularly challenging for product companies.

If you are a new entrant, make service a hall-mark of your offering. Take the time to put in place the processes that will enable you to demonstrate your responsiveness to the challenges of the market. If your competitor’s customers are annoyed by the amount of training it takes to get people productive, then this should be your focus. If a competitor takes 2 business days to answer an email, then this should be your focus. My guess is that average companies probably have 10-20% of their customer base vulnerable to switching due to service. Below average service companies probably have a lot more.

4. Speed– the axiom of “time is money” is a great selling point for a potential customer if you can demonstrate the ROI from the change. Selling that we are faster (slightly) in itself does not generally motivate buyers. Proportionality is critical. Did you upgrade your last PC because it was milliseconds faster? If so, you were a minority; hence why the PC & chip industries are rethinking the “speed is better” industry sales pitches. Save 20% in a major operation & improve quality; you have a customer’s attention. Do it at a lower cost due to changes in technology; better. Now, do it without disrupting their organization’s operations while they switch; you have a “winner”.

5. Tailored Solutions –A large competitor’s niche or market segment, may actually be your market. Once again, proportionality applies. For your competitor, a segment may be 10% of their total market. A niche may be 1 or 2% of their revenues. For a company with $2B in revenues, $50M may not be sufficient to focus. For you, $50M is a sufficient market to enter and begin your market domination. If you competitor is not focused on a part of the market, then the obvious strategy is to pick a small enough market segment that you can dominate with a more tailored offering.

The challenge is to balance the entry into the niche without pigeon-holing yourself or awaking the sleeping giant. Your ability to service this niche with ramifications for the rest of the market, may be just the wake-up call and the validation for upgrading their offering. You could create your greatest competitor; who then leverages their relationships to the market with a “me-too” offering. Your competitor could even use your “newness” against you as a risk mitigation strategy.

Figuring out how you will enter, how you will communication the value, how you will expand beyond the entry point, and how you will evolve your offering to stay ahead of the competitor is critical. You don’t want to win the initial battle and find yourself losing the war….

6. Risk Management – Most new entrants fail to gain traction because they fail to account for the buyer’s fear of change and overall inertia. “I am not really happy with our vendor, but….. we would have to go through training, we have a contract, saving that little money isn’t important, we are comfortable, we are used to it, etc.”

Pick your excuse…. what they are really saying is that your offering isn’t worth the trouble in switching. You haven’t built a sufficient case to risk switching. Contrast that with a resounding YES that certain products and services elicit. These offerings provide a significantly, measurable, emotional, and tangible improvement over what they are doing today. AND these offerings do it in a way that seems easier and doesn’t involve much risk of switching.

Pull all of the above together to build a multi-faceted, multi-stage market entry strategy and you have the potential for a “disruptive” offering. The reality is that most companies don’t have a disruptive, “home-run” where they can drive word-of-mouth merely by “building it and they will come”. The majority of younger companies will have to focus on the fundamentals and build upon their slight advantages. In essence, they will have to manufacture runs from their singles and wait for the “right pitch”. Understanding your competitors strengths and weaknesses, the market opportunity for improved offerings, and understanding the market’s risk equation are the keys to successfully entering a new market. 

There is a concept that I call “switching point” which is the micro-econmomic version of Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping point”. The switching point is the threshold in which you have created sufficient value to convince the potential customer that the opportunity of your offering outweighs the switching costs from the competitor. This is not an absolute, in fact may be unique to each customer, but a good market analysis should incorporate an identification of this equation into the sales process. Understanding the buyer motivation, switching challenges, and pain points will assist you in displacing an entrenched competitor.