Monday, September 23, 2013

A Tale of Customer Experience and Exact Change

Recently, I visited a neighborhood restaurant and placed a take-out order. Easy transaction, you might think, but you’d be wrong. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. With no manager in sight, I decided that a blog post with a copy to the company’s CEO would be my only recourse.

As we all know, the casual dining space is very crowded. While more upscale than fast-food options, such as, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Pollo Loco, there are restaurants that claim they provide a quality customer experience. While these restaurants don’t have white tablecloths, 14 karat gold utensils, or waiters in tuxedos, they offer more than the cookie-cutter McDonald’s menu. At the casual dining restaurants, you place your order by reading a large menu on the wall, pay for your meal, and then find a table. Your food is delivered to your table – often with a smile and a request to bring anything else you might want or need.

Now back to my recent experience: after I placed my order and paid, the employee gave me my change. I immediately noticed an error and asked for the correct change. The employee looked at me and was clearly annoyed. He said, “No one has ever asked for exact change before.”

In the words of Annette Franz Gleneicki, Voice of the Customer expert (@CXJourney on Twitter) and fellow positive customer experience advocate, “Regardless of whether it’s one cent or one dollar, it’s not up to the employee to decide whether you get change or not. Maybe some people don’t care about a penny or small amounts of change, but it’s the principle. Employees should never assume anything about the customer. For that matter, companies in general should never assume they know (anything about) their customers. They should ask AND they should listen.”

According to Anna Papachristos of 1to1 Media (@AP1to1 on Twitter), “To gain the advantage in today’s competitive market, brands must work to understand the customer experience.”

Here’s proof that this restaurant’s employee did not understand the customer experience:
[1] The time of the transaction was 7pm, and the restaurant closed at 8pm. If someone had already emptied the registers, and there was no cash to make change, then employees should have alerted customers at the beginning of any orders taken after 7pm.
[2] If the employee did not have sufficient cash in his register to complete my transaction, he should have explained the situation and asked another employee to share cash from another register.
[3] If the employee did not count the change correctly, he should have apologized and rectified the situation by providing the additional change.
[4] Under no circumstances should the employee have become noticeably annoyed because a customer requested correct change
[5] A customer should never be put in a situation where he has to request change that is rightfully his.

According to Gary Edwards, the Chief Customer Officer of Empathica (@DoctorGE on Twitter), “By understanding the customer journey, brands can quickly identify where they are failing to meet or exceed customer expectations, as well as help identify the key drivers of loyalty on which to focus, ways to change staff behavior, and how to leverage brand advocates when working towards improving overall experience.”

Where was the employee training in this restaurant? Where was the attention to customer service? And where was the attention to the customer experience? This will not come as a surprise, but I will not be returning to this restaurant.

Can you guess the restaurant? Share your guess in the comments section.

Image Credit: Gualberto107 via

Monday, September 16, 2013

Marketing Is Taking Charge and Leading the Customer Experience

How does your company respond to customers? Are questions answered in a timely manner? Are problems resolved by return email or phone call? Does your customer service department operate 24/7 or only within specific hours? Do members of your customer service team have the authority to go above and beyond to make sure that customers are happy? Do your customer service reps assume customers are wrong when they complain? As you consider these questions and the overall concept of customer experiences, fasten your seat belt and get ready for some astounding statistics.

“In the United States alone, roughly $83 billion is lost each year as a result of poor customer experiences. (1) That’s more than the revenue for the entire US e-commerce retail sector. (2)”

While some companies understand how customer service impacts and improves financial performance, there are far too many that are clueless. The IBM Center for Applied Insights regularly surveys professionals from around the world and across many industries and recently announced the results of the IBM State of Marketing 2013 Survey. Hopefully, the results will prompt you to re-consider how you treat customers in your day-to-day business interactions and improve all of your customer touchpoints.

“Last year, forward-thinking marketers were working hard to redefine their role and influence within the enterprise. Today, they’ve earned a seat at the business strategy table and are taking on the hard world of “owning” the customer experience across the enterprise. They’re seeking to integrate customer insight and omnichannel engagement – including social and mobile, as well as more traditional channels – to coordinate activities and improve the overall customer experience.”

The data showed that leading companies outperformed financially because their marketing leaders shared three key characteristics:
[1] Know customer context and integrate accordingly – demonstrate flexibility and responsiveness to fast-shifting expectations and circumstances.
[2] Act on insights systematically – make good use of technology to develop customer insights and act on them in a consistent manner.
[3] Take a broader view of the customer experience – use rigorous measurement to guide actions and build customer relationships that grow and strengthen over time.

The survey provided an example from a well-known international brand that many of us will recognize. “Consider how Apple has taken ownership of the entire customer experience by using marketing technology, insight, and engagement in a carefully orchestrated way. When customers want to schedule an in-store service appointment, they encounter a seamless blend of live web information and interaction, relevant in-store displays, and in-person employee interaction that is both customized to them and made more convenient by mobile technology. The entire process flows smoothly. An experience like this does more than employ channels effectively. It sends a powerful message that the brand is invested in building a better customer relationship by making it easier to interact and conduct transactions. This cross-channel illustration displays broad understanding, knowledge of context, and ability to take systematic action, all brought to life through a single customer interaction.”

How about your brand? While your brand doesn’t own the customer experience in the same manner as Apple does, there are definitely ways in which you can improve your process. Perhaps, you can improve your brand’s packaging, distribution channels, pricing model, or promotional strategy. How often do you change your strategy in real-time? Do you combine multiple channels to share your messaging? Are all of your brand messages consistent? What happens with online transactions are abandoned? And do you track your customer lifetime value?

In the 2013 survey, “leading marketers clearly defined the customer context and its value to the business – and created a case for a larger role in the end-to-end customer experience…This expanded role expressed itself if many ways. These range from an in-depth understanding of how different touchpoints affect customer context to deeper involvement in individual channel activities related to customer experience, such as, brand training for call center and sales staff. This broader view of – and involvement in – the customer experience makes leading marketers stewards of their brands, able to bring clarity, consistency, and high standards to every customer interaction.

Leading companies extended the influence of marketing in much higher percentages than their competitors:
[1] They contacted customers to gauge their satisfaction.
[2] They monitored and tracked delivery commitments to ensure fulfillment.
[3] They identified cross and upsell opportunities for sales and customer-facing staff.
[4] They trained sales and customer-facing staff on product and service lines.
[5] They designed marketing offers for point of purchase.

“Leaders use every interaction as an opportunity to enhance the overall experience. To do this well, a company needs to be hypersensitive to not only behavior, history, and preferences, but also the real-time circumstances customers are facing…[And also] a clear vision of the end game. [Leaders] view marketing as much more than a siloed function. Its influence – and responsibility – extends across the entire buy/market/sell/service cycle to bring all channels and all kinds of interaction together.” 

So, what about your business? What have the highlights from this IBM report prompted you to change in your outlook about customer experience marketing – and implement as a result?


To read the entire report, here’s the link:

(1) Poor Customer Service Costs Companies $83 Billion Annually:

(2) Data from the U.S. Department of Commerce:

Image Credit: Image created on

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Want to Improve Your Brand? Here Are 25 Ways

If you ask people to define a brand, you’ll get hundreds of definitions. Everything from a company’s main product to secondary products to a tagline to a competitive differentiator can all define your brand. But as customer engagement expert Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) explains, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. The room is the web, it’s getting bigger, and it’s social.”

So, do you know what people say about your brand? Do you monitor brand mentions in social media? What do those metrics mean? Since my favorite marketing discussions focus on brand development, brand equity, and branding strategies, I asked 25 fellow brand marketers to share their favorite marketing tips.

Julie Hunt (@juliebhunt): Branding is becoming more than names, logos, and company identity. Positive customer experience is becoming entwined with brand value.

Bernadette Jiwa (@bernadettejiwa): We think our job is to change how people feel about our product or service. But, in fact, our job is to change how people feel about themselves when they use that product or service.

William Arruda (@williamarruda): Engage all employees in the brand promise from sourcing and onboarding through separation. They’re all brand assets and potent ambassadors.

Doug Rawady (@dougrawady): Make sure that your brand is integrated into your organization’s DNA such that every aspect of the business reflects and is in-sync with the brand’s promise.

Julia Carcamo (@jccarcamo): Know your audience. It will help you understand what the experience needs to be and how to communicate it.

Michael A. Stelzner (@Mike_Stelzner): Create an unforgettable image for your site. We use a cartoon character that people don’t forget.

John Freshney (@WiseCrow1): Focus your branding on what you are great at, not what you aspire to be. Staff will live your brand, and customers will love the experience.

Kent Huffman (@KentHuffman): Focus your messaging on the most significant differentiator your brand offers and what value that brings to your customers.

Jay Baer (@jaybaer): Don’t be afraid to make the story bigger. Engage with your customers and prospects in ways that improve their lives, even if it’s not your products and services. Remember, helping beats selling.

Jeffrey Summers (@JeffreySummers): You build better brands through better guest experiences. You build better guest experiences by adding meaningfully differentiated value at every single guest touchpoint.

Tim Moore (@TimMoore): Build your brand around relationships, not rules, policies, color palettes, or buzzwords. If you do, the “out of business” clock is ticking.

Paul Biedermann (@PaulBiedermann): Be consistent with your branding throughout your various channels and marketing touchpoints, both online and offline.

Brandemix (@Brandemix): Make the brand authentic. It must reflect a company’s actual mission, vision, and values. Otherwise, it’s a false promise.

Karl Speak (@speakk and @brandtoolbox)): Creating and sustaining a strong alignment between employees’ personal brands and an organization’s brand is the most powerful brand strategy.

Neal Schaffer (@NealSchaffer): You are what you tweet – make sure you update your branding guidelines to include your voice for social media.

Aaron Biebert (@Biebert): Always look good. Don’t put out low-level pictures, videos, or designs. People don’t trust outdated or poorly-designed brands.

Sandi Krakowski (@sandikrakowski): Focus on relationships. This will increase conversion.

JD Lasica (@jdlasica): Branding is not about design or logos or look. It’s about positioning and messaging. Your company needs a consistent message to the public, whether it’s your website, social channels, marketing collateral, or banner flying over Giants Stadium. Tell your story across different media and formats, and understand that, in the end, your customers determine your brand. Be yourself and be true.

Brand You Consulting (@BrandYOUGroup): Understand that the market is constantly changing. Position your brand one step ahead so you’re the one affecting change instead of being affected by it.

Sisarina (@Sisarina and @MelanieSpring): Spend time and money on a logo and make sure you hire an expert to pull it out of you.

Fiona Vesey (@FionaVesey): It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Building rapport with potential customers is all about doing the right things, as opposed to saying the right things. Choosing the right tone of voice, the correct marketing mediums, through to whether you use a giveaway versus a discount – these all affect how people interpret what you say about your brand.

Kathi Kruse (@kathikruse): It’s never been more important to have a customer-centric culture. Everything you say and do – including how you treat your employees – is being broadcast throughout the web. Make sure your culture is ready for prime time. Being able to tell the story of your business in a meaningful way connects your brand to your prospects and customers. By communicating how you do business, you initiate the customer experience long before they walk on the lot or visit your website.

Phil Gerbyshak (@philgerb): Be as consistent as possible in usernames so they can be easily remembered and mention the actual URL.

Anna Rydne (@CoSkills): Find your authentic voice! That’s the most important thing when building relationships with customers.

David Brier (@davidbrier): Cookie cutters are for baking, not branding. It’s one of those points too often overlooked by companies, so to carry the cooking metaphor further, it goes like this: Companies use the same ingredients as one another. These being the same clichĂ©s, the same imagery, the same tired formula messages, yet they expect a different result. If two or more chefs used the same ingredients, the only way one would outshine the other would be to apply ingenuity, using one of the ingredients in a different way, using it in some unexpected approach, shaking it up. Otherwise, their cooking efforts would all blend and be impossible to distinguish one from the other, kind of like today’s all-you-can-eat-buffets of endless brand messages. If you omit the ingenuity and the insight to use some ingredient differently, you won’t be branding, you’ll wind up blanding, which is worse (and flatter) than the flattest (and least palatable) soufflĂ©.

And finally, I wish to thank Ken Peters (Person of Interest, Nocturnal Branding Studio) for my favorite statement on this subject: “Advertising shouts at you. Marketing talks to you. Branding connects with you.”

What’s your favorite branding tip? Please chime in.

Image Credit: Thanks to Ted Goff for use of his cartoon with this post. Check out Ted's work at

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Does Your Business Have a Chief Customer Officer?

Department store chain Kohl’s has created a new role as part of its executive team. An executive from Starbucks, Michelle Gass, recently joined Kohl’s as its first Chief Customer Officer.

According to Wikipedia, a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) is “the executive responsible in customer-centric companies for the total relationship with customers. This position was developed to provide a single vision across all methods of customer contact. The CCO is often responsible for influencing corporate activities of customer relations in the call center, sales, marketing, user interface, finance (billing), fulfillment, and post-sale support. The CCO typically reports to the chief executive officer, and is potentially a member of the board of directors.”

According to the Chief Customer Officer Council, the CCO is “an executive who provides the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and creates corporate and customer strategy at the highest levels of the company to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and profitability.”

Let’s return to Kohl’s. There is no denying that its new CCO has experience with one of the world’s most well-known brands, but can that experience be applied toward apparel and housewares? In addition, how can the development of industry-leading coffee drinks, such as the Frappucino, help to re-energize the customer experience at Kohl’s?

When it comes to industries, the department store chain industry is radically different from the coffee bar/restaurant industry. While Starbucks revolutionized the coffee drinking experience and coffee industry, it’s light years away from apparel. While customers may purchase coffee machines in its stores, the majority of Starbucks customers purchase coffee or other drinks at its locations. And no one makes a trip to Starbucks to buy apparel.

When it comes to target audiences, visitors to Starbucks coffee stores differ from Kohl’s shoppers. While Kohl’s tagline is “Expect Great Things,” no one can say that shopping at Kohl’s is the same experience as shopping at Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s. At Kohl’s, the focus is “incredible savings, hassle-free returns, and easy shopping.” As a result, the entire concept of customer experience cannot be copied and pasted.

It is admirable that Kohl’s places the same importance on the customer experience as more highbrow companies, but the jury is still out as to whether the company can successfully execute customer experience marketing initiatives that will create the same level of customer experiences as industry leaders such as Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Nordstrom.

What about your business? Do you have a Chief Customer Officer? If not, do you have plans for adding one in the future? Why or why not?


Thanks to fellow IBM blogger, Shadra Bruce, for her article’s inspiration for this post.

Note: Above abbreviations correspond to the following C-Level roles:
Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Administrative Officer/Chief Diversity Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Officer/Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Legal Officer, Chief Marketing Officer/Chief Branding Officer, and Chief Customer Officer.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.