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Archive | 2011

The Convenient Lie Of Customer Lying

Last week, Alessandro Di Fiore wrote a blogpost at HBR that provoked some pretty strong reactions from me called How to Get Past Your Customers’ Lies.

First, I don’t believe customers “lie.” When we believe they’re “lying” to us, it immediately puts a negative lens on the customer and their experience. Try this little thought experiment: the next time your significant other (or kid, boss, etc.) says something to you, immediately plant it in your mind that they’re lying or not telling you the whole truth. Makes a big difference in how you treat these relationships, doesn’t it? So what makes us think we can do anything different with a customer? How about if we practice some empathy for our customers instead? Our customers may hide things from us or simply not know how to clearly articulate the needs, frustrations, ideas, and convenient work-arounds that play out in their daily experience. They need help and it’s what a trained anthropologist with experience in fieldwork can do.

He suggests that eight to ten participant observations are enough to gather necessary data for decision-making. Field observation in business settings can be time, labor, and money intensive activities. But if we’re going to condense the ethnography, then every single interaction and experience counts. Nothing can be wasted. Field observation isn’t just an academic exercise, it’s purpose is to drive better business and product results. If the whole process – research design, data gathering, and analysis – takes months to complete, that’s critical time lost. Business anthropologists know how to conduct what’s known as rapid ethnography to complete the process not in months, but in weeks.

Finally, the process of getting market feedback and customer ideas in the field is not the sole domain of the C-level suite. As a matter of fact, I’d argue they are the least best option. You have to know how to observe the right things and ask the right questions. You also have to know how to see what’s not there and listen for what’s not actually said. Too many times, CEOS and other executives are too tied to their prior strategies and decisions. They become blinded to what they want to see. And they’re not trained to explore the nuances of things which is often where true discovery happens.

Trust me, a good business anthropologist is going to be able to filter all of this with the necessary focus on business, strategy, and people. It’s this – along with our needed objectivity – that makes us the ideal partner.

Photo credit: discoodoni via Flickr

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Clean Beds And A Lesson In Pricing

It’s tough not to get hung up on cost isn’t it? In particular, we marketers can get caught up in what our competition is selling their wares for and get a twinge of anxiety. Are we selling for the right price? What if someone else has found out how to do the same thing cheaper?

All this ignores what’s really important, however. And that’s the distinct difference between cost and value. To illustrate, here’s what happened to our family over the Thanksgiving holiday. We decided to make the 1000+ mile road trip from Austin to Virginia. The driving was great (we left Austin the weekend prior to Thanksgiving and started our return on Black Friday – thanks folks for shopping instead of driving). What was not so great were the cheap accommodations we went with along the way.

See, we didn’t intentionally choose cheap motels, but went with them because these are the ones that openly label themselves as “pet friendly”. The trip to Virginia, we went with a La Quinta which was serviceable. Not terribly clean but not terribly dirty either. The particular Red Roof Inn we went with on the way back to Austin was far less than okay (which is being rather charitable). Even though we had a nonsmoking room, the sheets reeked of nicotine. We were tired and accepted it, thinking its just for one night. At 3am, my oldest daughter woke us up and complained that her bed was giving her asthma problems and she was having trouble breathing. Well heck, if I’m awake at 3am I might as well pack us up and finish the drive…and that’s what we did.

My purpose to this story isn’t to pile on either La Quinta or Red Roof Inn. I’ve stayed in some nice ones. And I’m fully aware we should have changed rooms and mentioned it to the front desk. That’s on us. My purpose is to show that having the lowest price isn’t always the main selling point. Think we got any value out of that cheap room when we only stayed until 3am? Nope. I would have paid double to have a good night sleep.

So instead of engaging in that race to the bottom which is inevitable in any pricing war, think about value and what your target customers value in your product or service. Message to what problems you solve and how that value makes you the clear choice. It’s very likely that clean sheets and a soft pillow will beat out a cheap price to a weary traveler.

photo credit: Chrispitality via Flickr

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Commit Random Acts Of Heresy

Back in ye olden times, any person who actively preached and acted against accepted dogma was branded a heretic. Unfortunately for these courageous characters it often meant a date with a stake and torches. The penalties for committing acts of heresy were enough to keep most folks in line. They figured out pretty quickly that it was far more preferable to do what everyone else was doing and conform to the norms of the community.

Funny how things don’t really change. In our businesses, we still adhere to the teachings of the Cult of Best Practices. We easily swallow conventional wisdom. We seek out industry benchmarks in order to know if our own mediocrity matches up to that of other companies. In short, we’re scared shitless to take the risk of going against dogma.

Except now, dogma has taken on a much wider definition.

The dogma of success. The dogma of perfection. The dogma of looking like we’ve always got our shit together. The dogma of needing that new Lexus. The dogma of being an easygoing, likable, agreeable employee. We all have some sort of dogma getting in our way. Well, that needs to end. Now.

It’s time for a lot more heretical thinking and doing.

What does being a heretic mean?
It means giving up best practices.
It means asking “Why?”…a lot.
It means going out on a limb and staying there.
It means having the guts to creatively destroy anything that’s old and busted.

What’s in it for us? Why not just stay easygoing, likable, and agreeable? Why not just keep playing it safe? Because safe is an illusion. Worse, safe is a trap that keeps us from fully igniting the fire of our imaginations and chasing new ideas that can truly change the world. Don’t know about you but I’m sick to death of playing it all so damn safe. I’m ready to commit random acts of heresy.

So…what dogma are you willing to give the finger to today? Share yours and I’ll share mine. Let’s go.

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Clearing The Air About Ethnography

Everyday there is evidence that ethnography is entering the general business vernacular. And there is also plenty of evidence that it remains woefully misunderstood. I’ve heard it bandied about as just another tool for getting information about customers and users.

However, the fact is that ethnography is more than just a set of tools. It’s a practice which means there is a whole way of thinking that must go into applying the tools in an honest, coherent way. This is why I get incredibly frustrated when untrained individuals think they can just go out and do ethnography. That’s like me saying that I’m going to go out and build a skyscraper. Just as you wouldn’t want me to be your architect, don’t be so fast to employ some fast-talking market research consultant with zero actual training to do something that requires careful study, preparation, and understanding.

  • Ask them for some credentials. Where did they study or get their ethnography training? If it amounts to zilch or appears dubious boot them out.
  • Ask them about the ethics of conducting ethnography. Are they aware of possible ethical situations that might arise? If they seem clueless or cavalier about it, then boot them out.
  • Ask them about their prior experiences and demand they give examples. Don’t fall for ethnographic techniques that are just interviews in disguise. If they don’t know the difference between interviews and ethnography, then yes, give them the boot. Hell, give them another boot for trying to pull a fast one on you.

And one more thing. While no social science has a monopoly on conducting ethnography, it’s purpose isn’t to reveal individual customer or user psychology. Don’t expect to know how a product makes someone feel or understand personality traits of a buyer or focus on a person’s psyche. If that’s what you want, hire a psychologist for answers.

What we do as business-oriented anthropologists is to help our clients understand how a customer, user, or buyer ascribes meaning to their everyday world. We seek to understand how people situate themselves in their existence. We look at how their actions match or contradict the words they use to describe themselves or their behavior. We view people holistically and seek to understand them within the context of their cultural surroundings.

Why would you want this information? Because it will mean the difference between whether your sparkly new product or revolutionary new service not only sells but gets used, gets talked about, gets people coming back for more. Because we help clients create things that make a difference in the lives of their customers.

Sorry yet another rant but I can’t sit idly while I see misinformed people continuing to degrade anthropology and ethnographic methods in order to be something they clearly are not.

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Relationship Marketing Is A Steaming Pile Of…

I’ve had it. I’ve more than had it…I’m at a place where if I hear another marketing wizard continue to use the words ‘relationship’ or ‘social’ in front of the word ‘marketing’, I’m going to come after them with a pitchfork or whatever sharp pointy object that’s close at hand.

Why? Because if you still believe marketing is separated from building relationships or being social (whatever that hell really means anyway), then you really don’t understand marketing. Please, do us all a favor? Just call it marketing. Stop trying to fleece the ignorant and misinformed. And then try something novel: do the work that marketing does without going into the need of throwing out empty platitudes and worthless buzzwords.

And sales? You’re not off the hook, either. If anything, sales has been and always shall be about relationships. So don’t call it ‘relationship sales’ or ‘social selling’. These are just bullshit words that make you look either ignorant or sleazy.

Got examples of this crap in action today? Let’s share…comments welcomes below.

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Does Your Website Have The 5 Abilities? Now With More Meat

Note: A couple of months ago, I wrote this post for PR Soup. Ever since then, I wanted to add some examples to illustrate my points. So here it is…I’ve taken my Soup post and added some more meat to it. Enjoy!

Since my company is currently undertaking a website redesign project, I’ve been thinking a lot about websites lately – in particular, what makes them successful as a marketing tool. In a quest to learn what other companies have done, I’ve visited dozens upon dozens of business sites for clues to their potential success. And I’ve seen quite a few that I would categorize as the web equivalent of the black pit of despair. What I think I’ve discovered is…

It takes five -abilities to make your site a successful marketing and business development machine.

Justifiability: What do you do and why do I need it?
Your site has to make a convincing and fast value proposition to a potential customer. That means you can’t pummel them with countless feature sets, services, and all the things that YOU think make you great. Know why? Because it’s not about you…it’s about the customer. So you better be able to succinctly describe what your business does and why it matters to them.

Who gets it right: Infochimps

What Infochimps does is simple: they provide an ever-expanding selection of datasets in which businesses can build apps and analytics. It’s right there on their front page. And their data search bar sits prominently just below the header. You can’t miss it or the value you might get from working with this company.

Capability: How will you solve my problem?

While it’s not necessary to go in-depth into how your business works, it is necessary to show you understand your customer’s challenges and then offer how you can uniquely resolve them. Conduct some market studies and learn your core customer’s pain points. Then use their language (not your own cryptic in-house terminology) to demonstrate how you can make their lives easier.

Who gets it right: Silverpop

Marketing automation platforms are a fairly new and fast-growing industry segment so there’s lots of competition out there. I really love how the folks at Silverpop drive home the value of their solution by focusing on how they solve common marketing challenges. Who doesn’t need to increase ROI or conversions? The answers are right there.

Easability: Is it easy to work with you? Is it easy to buy from you?
No matter how incredibly wonderful and life-changing a product or service might be, no one – REPEAT, NO ONE – wants to buy it if it only leads to a painful experience. Your site needs to not only be easy to use and navigate, it needs to mirror just how easy it is to work with you.

Who gets it right: Uservoice

There are plenty of quality services out there with easy to use, freemium models. I just happen to adore how Uservoice does it. I needed to find a quick, yet dependable solution for collecting feature requests for my company. Within 5 minutes I was signed up and didn’t need to give any credit card info to do it. That’s truly making it easy for me to get to know your service.

Credability: Can I trust you?

We all know that trust is a cornerstone of business. Prospects want to know that your company isn’t some fly-by-night operation that’s not going to deliver on promises. It’s why so many sites have those areas on their home page showing logos from companies they serve. That immediately implies credibility by getting us to think, “Well if [Company X] trusts them, I can too.”

Who gets it right: Radian6 and Spiceworks

It’s pretty standard issue for companies to show the logos of their best customers. What I like about these two companies is they go beyond this to build greater levels of immediate trust. When Radian6 tells me that half of all Fortune 100 companies use them, that gets my attention. And when Spiceworks shows me how many IT pros and companies are using their services right now, that instills a sense of comfort in users. When this happens, taking the next step toward a sales contact just got a lot easier.

Dependability: Will you be there when I need you?
Just like credibility, prospects want to know that once they make the decision to work with you they’re not going to regret it. They want to know that you’re there when something doesn’t work. They want to know that you’re listening when they have an idea or suggestion. They want to know you’re going to be a partner in their success.

Who gets it right: Solarwinds

Because of their business model, Solarwinds is all about offering great support in several different methods. Their thwack user community is strong with most issues handled peer-to-peer. They also have a multitude of videos, docs, and other support resources in addition to actual live customer support. You know when you work with Solarwinds, someone has your back. And that’s a very good thing if your business is dealing with skeptical and anxious IT pros.

Take a look at your site and ask whether it meets these five criteria. If not, what can you do right now to change that? I guarantee it will be worth your time and effort.

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Hassle Mapping The Customer Experience

A benefit of working at Journyx is our CEO, Curt Finch, has an uncanny knack for having wonderful conversations with some of the smartest business thinkers out there. A few weeks ago, Curt talked with Adrian Slywotzky who wrote The Art of Profitability and just penned the upcoming Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It. I’d highly recommend you add it to your reading list (or just go ahead and preorder it now).

One of the key points in their conversation – which can be found in Curt’s Inc blogpost – centers around generating greater market demand and improving a customer’s experience through the creation of hassle maps. Slywotsky defines a hassle map:

Whether you’re talking about a consumer or a corporation, a hassle map defines all of the actual steps that characterize the negative experiences of the customer. Think about these questions: Where are the emotional hot spots, the irritations, the frustrations, the time wasted, the delay? Where are the economic hot spots? And then think about this: What are the ways that businesses can radically improve the hassle map for both the customer and themselves?

Many companies face a problem when it comes to the user or customer experience. It’s rarely one huge catastrophe that sinks them. Rather, it’s more akin to death by a thousand cuts. Our customers or users experience a hassle here, another hassle there…eventually, the hassles build up to a point where the negatives outweigh any positives. And another otherwise satisfied customer leaves for something better.

Let’s get a better handle on these hassles – understand what they are and ruthlessly rip them from our customers’ lives. At Journyx, we’ve started developing a Hassle Map Program to collect and catalog how customers interact with our software. I thought I’d share a bit of how we’ve set it up.

Step One: Collect feedback through conversations and observation.
We’ve piloted the program using local customers, which gives us the advantage of getting some face time with them. It’s always a benefit when you can put names with faces…and let the customer do the same.

For these in-person sessions, I record use a Kodak Zi8 video camera and tripod. I love this camera because it’s unobtrusive and still provides pretty good picture and sound quality. And since I also want to ensure I’m capturing every move and mouse click, I set up a recordable GoToMeeting session. I find the combination of video camera and G2M give me several angles in which to understand the hassles our customers experience when using our software.

Step Two: Build the Hassle Map
When it comes to developing the hassle map, I’m a big fan of the mind mapping technique. While it can be done on paper, I much prefer electronic because we’re going to want to build a database of hassle maps. Of all the mind mapping software out there, I highly recommend Mindjet MindManager. It’s pricy but it does something that few others will do: it allows me to conduct searches across maps. So if I want to look for patterns of frustrations across customers, I type a keyword and let the program perform its magic.

Step Three: Put the Maps into Action
It’s not enough to gather the data, right? For the whole Hassle Mapping program to be productive, the data needs to be put to use in your market strategy and product planning. Factor it into your roadmap. Start sharing the outcomes throughout your organization. More than likely, you’ll uncover some hassles not just around your products and services…you’ll learn about hassles with support and sales. If so, make sure that gets to the right folks in your organization.

If you want to know more about our Hassle Mapping program, come to ProductCamp Austin this weekend. I’m proposing a session called Hassle Mapping Your Way to a Better Product Experience. If you can’t make it and would like to know more (or if my session isn’t chosen), reach out to me and I’ll make sure you get the PowerPoint and session collateral I’m preparing for the event.

5

Trade Show Survival Tips For The Introvert

I just returned from managing my first trade show booth in nearly five years. Turns out there were some simple things I remembered:

  1. Comfortable shoes are a life saver (turns out my Lucchese boots fit the bill nicely).
  2. Make incremental adjustments to booth setup depending on the attendee behavior (we moved our tchotchkes closer to the front to encourage more takeaways).
  3. Smile and call folks by their name (it’s no accident why events have those big name tags featuring attendee first names).

But I also realized there are some fairly important tips I’ve developed that help me – as an introvert – to successfully cope with the demands of working a trade booth. The biggest misconception of introverts is that we’re shy which is only somewhat true. Some of us introverts (like me) have extrovert tendencies so we enjoy interacting with strangers and carrying on interesting conversations. Where we do tend to differ from our extrovert counterparts is that being in and around large groups of people drains our betteries. So for that reason, we introverts need to carefully manage our energy in order to start and finish a trade show strong. Here are a few tips that I’ve used that have helped me…and hopefully they’ll help you:

Take care of ourselves. We need to eat a healthy breakfast, get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, and breathe. Trade shows are incredibly demanding of our focused energy so it’s crucial that we tend to our physical, mental, and emotional needs.

Make time for some alone time. Our batteries get drained by being on the show floor so it’s only logical that they need to be recharged. That usually requires some alone or quiet time. If we’re going to make it through that two or three day show, we can’t do it on depleted energy reserves.

Take breaks when they come. It’s natural to have some lulls in show traffic. We need to take advantage of them to recollect ourselves and be ready for when the next wave of traffic hits.

Have fun…but within limits. Trade shows can be a lot of fun. We get the opportunity to meet a diverse crowd of folks, learn about their work, and find ways we might be able to help them. We also get out of the office and visit some interesting places. But it’s important to remember we’re there for work first and foremost. Going out drinking and clubbing every night is fine if you’re one of the rare individuals who can function on little sleep and hungover. I’ve yet to meet an introvert who can do that.

Don’t apologize for who we are. Seriously. Accept that most folks who staff trade booths are extroverted by nature and gather energy by being around other people. We can’t try to keep up with them like its some kind of test of strength. If we do, we’re probably going to lose. So if you’re feeling a little run down, graciously head back to your room for the evening, order room service, and just relax with a book or television.

If you’re an introvert, what other advice would you offer? I’d love to hear about your own experience so leave a comment below.

Additional Resources:
The Surprising Value of Introverted Trade Show Booth Staffers
from Mike Thimmesch at Skyline Trade Show Tips
You’re Just Not That Into Me (the introvert’s guide to attending a conference) from Lisa Petrilli at C-Level Strategies

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Ideas on Customer Success Stories

Great customer testimonials and success stories are like gold for marketers. Nothing sells a product, solution, and experience quite like hearing about it from the viewpoint of a peer. But don’t mistake referenceability for actually having a customer with a compelling story. The former simply means they’re happy to tell a prospect about their own positive customer experience. Our job is to uncover those customers who have seen extraordinary results that couldn’t have been accomplished without us.

Along similar lines, Joshua Horwitz at Reference Success encourages us to Look Forward by Looking Back to Your Most Loyal. I like Joshua’s third point:

Find New Faces Don’t be afraid to ask who else might have stories to tell.  We always recommend trying to find multiple contacts within each customer reference site, but that request gets easier as the relationship matures.  Asking your loyal customer to vouch for how easy it is to be a reference for your company can make all the difference in recruiting others that may have new perspectives and new stories to share.

What’s worked for you in collecting those compelling success stories from your customers?

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Customer Experience Has To Be Captured In The Wild

If you’re thinking you can develop a customer experience program from behind your desk or behind the glass of a focus group room, think again.

The ideas underlying customer experience are not new, and historically many successful entrepreneurs have used essentially qualitative research techniques to develop distinctive customer experiences…Developing a new customer experience involves risk, and research techniques – especially quantitative techniques – may be incapable of eliciting a response from potential customers where the proposed experience is hypothetical, and devoid of the emotional and situational context in which it will be encountered.
Adrian Palmer, Customer Experience Management: a Critical Review of an Emerging Idea

Customer experience has to be captured in the wild and in the moment. Focus groups are for wimps. Now, go get it.

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