The Loneliness of the Short-Sighted Reference Story
Thursday, August 31, 2006
In the freelance writer's equivalent of running a marathon-or more like a long-distance sprint--I once interviewed 20 customers and wrote 20 testimonial stories in two weeks for a company's annual report. While the worldwide sales force was always clamoring for reference stories, individual account teams were less than generous in offering up their own customers for the purpose. Too protective of the relationship? Perhaps. Too busy to give the effort any priority? Certainly. In any event, the company was lucky to produce two stories a quarter.
On this occasion the CEO directed them to pony up and they did. The annual report got done-but, alas, the lost opportunity! A fair amount of money was spent on a glossy production for a fleeting purpose. What if there had been a system or process in place to capture and reuse all the information collected? Instead, these 20 stories were never leveraged in any other way.
What if there had been an evidence bank of referenceable customers already in place to draw from? Customers could have been selected and stories assembled based on strategic factors-instead of who agreed to be interviewed in time.
As a result, the annual report introduction was OK-but it could have been super. And the company could have a realized a return on its investment instead of just racking up an expense.
Nancy Heifferon, Consultant Nancy.Heifferon@phelongroup.com
When your long-term customers defect, should you really do nothing?
Friday, August 25, 2006
I recently switched my cellular service from Cingular to Verizon Wireless.
I don't abandon established business relationships lightly. I'm an extremely loyal customer driving 15 miles to my long-standing dry cleaner rather than doing business with the chain down the road. And I had been a staunch AT&T Wireless (then Cingular) customer for almost eight years.
But my husband insisted that we make the change. Not only does he believe the service at Verizon to be best-in-class, but he is avid about supporting Verizon, which is a partner with the company he works for. He ordered me a Blackberry to replace my old one, which has been battered from traveling around the world.
What I experienced in the transition from a long-time relationship to a new one contains lessons for every business.
1. The experience with their services people was amazing!
I called the Verizon Wireless 800 number and after punching in a few numbers, a friendly voice (not the kind you typically get) responded after one ring-may I help you?
A few minutes into the call there were some issues. I didn't have the secret password they needed for activation. "Oh no!" I thought, I don't have time for this." To my surprise, they never said, call us back when you get your password. Instead, the service rep had me on hold for two minutes and came back each 20 seconds "Promise, it's going to be a few more seconds." They made the call on the other line and retrieved the password for me!
Now here's the kicker. As she worked through the set up, she asked me very pointed questions: "How long were you with Cingular?" "Why are you leaving?" "What would prompt you to leave a wireless carrier?" "Why did you join Verizon?" "Why did you choose the Blackberry?"
2. Genuine interest and trust from a smart person.
Soon into our call, I realized something-her questions and her active support were not (in my mind) part of the process. It seemed genuinely part of the culture at the Verizon service center (and hopefully across the company.) She wasn't reading from some checklist or banging away at the keys each time I responded. She was thoughtful, smart, took care of my questions, and never said "NO." It was obvious she was a highly trained representative. Within moments, the phone was ported and I was parted from Cingular. After a few minutes, the Verizon rep called me back and said "Hi, Promise! I just wanted to make sure that your new Blackberry was working. I also sent you a few emails to see that your email service was working."
3. The fresh breeze of competition.
Competition in the cell phone market, driven by Number Porting legislation, has forced providers to differentiate based on service. I wish everything could be that way. I spend a lot of time with clients and I always like to go to their call and service centers. It speaks volumes about their culture-what level of folks are hired, how much autonomy they're given to make decisions, and so on. We tend to forget about the service reps as drivers of customer loyalty and more often as the last place a good customer goes before it dies.
What I found most interesting about my experience is that I don't have to call Cingular and sever the relationship. After several years, the relationship can be severed and remembered as a series of transactions. Here is the real killer-Cingular knows that I have defected by now, but they have not called! Do they not have the triggers in their system when it happens? Is there a process to win back a customer or learn from the defection? I doubt it.
Companies spend so much time focusing on getting money in the front door and in many cases ignore the back-door slamming sound (and the crushing sound of their brand).
It is probably more challenging for your customers to defect when they're using hundreds of your company's licenses. But when they do, what does your organization do about that? Who owns the defected customer?
I leave you with this: We're all looking forward, but what place does the lost account play into your business strategy and reflection?
Promise Phelon, CEO email@example.com
Highlighting Your Latest Reference Success
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Are your internal stakeholders using the content you produce? Do they even know what's available? Or do individuals outside your reference program contact customers directly for marketing activities?
To increase the visibility - and, thus, the value - of your reference program, develop a weekly email highlighting your latest reference success and send it to sales, marketing, and your company executives. Successes may include new content you've developed, activities for which you've secured a reference, and press that includes reference quotes (these could be press releases, but better if they're press clips).
Keep your communication brief - just a few lines for each item and a link to the actual item. Three or four items per communication will keep your program in the limelight.
If you do not have the bandwidth to develop a new reference communication, take advantage of an existing ongoing internal vehicle to tell your story. Does your sales team put out a weekly newsletter or report? If not, how about your company's employee newsletter? Speak with the editor about including a "reference corner." And be sure to link the communication back to your program, inviting s sales and marketing to contact your program for any reference needs.
Lucy Sanna, Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org
The good news (and the bad) for customer reference programs
Nuggets from the 2006 Customer Reference Program Benchmarking Study
Monday, August 14, 2006
The firm is pleased to announce the release of our 2006 Customer Reference Benchmarking Study, available on our website. It's been a long, wild ride but, I believe, one well worth it. The reference industry continues to evolve; new, strategic demands are knocking on your program's door. Everywhere I turn lately I'm hearing about Voice of the Customer and Net Promoter® Score; the successful application of these concepts can launch your program into the next generation and your company into the leaders quadrant- this brings both some good and bad news.
That's good news if you're running a customer reference program because it means management is setting its sights on you. It means management is going to want-even need-to see to it that your program is structured for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. It means management cares about the level of resources flowing into your program.
On the other hand, however, if they care about what goes into your program, then they'll also care about what comes out-its impact and results. And if your program's impact and results aren't as expected... well... then that might not be good news.
While I think it's to your advantage to get the full story available in the study, I'll briefly share three of what I believe to be program-changing key findings of the study, as well as how they're relevant to you:
- Finding 1: Customer-savvy corporate leaders want all customer touch-points under one, central location. How do you make sure that location is within your program? How can you direct your organization to think about the Office of the Customer?
- Finding 2: Voice of the customer is the new crystal ball used for upper level decision-making. Are your execs seeing customers clearly or is the image murky? What are your promoters, as well as your detractors, saying and who exactly are they?
- Finding 3: With added budget comes added accountability for the services your program delivers. How do you prove to execs that dollars invested into your program are reaping returns? What is your Return on Reference?
Despite the glare of the spotlight, the overall picture for reference programs is bright. The very fact that executive teams are grooving to "customer first" is your ticket to redefining and shaping the future of your program today... nd for years to come. What shape it takes, however, well that's up to you!
Read more about the 2006 Customer Reference Benchmarking Study today.Kathleen McBride, Consultant email@example.com
A High Response Rate Could be the Last Thing You Need
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
In the MarketingProfs "Daily Fix" blog, veteran direct-marketing consultant Lee Marc Stein reiterated in 6.28.06 post that marketers shouldn't lie. Then he points out the direct-mail paradox-- that the deceptive technique of disguising direct mail as an "official" communication (a lie) actually works based on the only metric that matters-the almighty response rate.
"Even in the 'Age of Disbelief,' consumers of all stripes and business people, too, are swallowing these deceptions time and time again," says Stein. When they discover they have been duped, enough respond any way to validate the campaign and keep the irritating practice alive.
The practice Stein calls "irritating" actually skates on thin ice legally as well as ethically. In 2000, a law suit settled with automobile dealers ended several deceptive direct mail tactics in New York, including using envelopes that look like those of a government agency. In the press release announcing the settlement, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said, "these mailings were a textbook example of how to mislead consumers. Very often, the purchase of an automobile is one of the most important financial decisions that a consumer makes. Consumers should not be lured into an auto dealership through the use of deceptive marketing practices…that violate state law."
So is a satisfactory response rate really worth it? Do the responses turn into sales and the sales into profits? And are the profits achieved "good profits" of the kind described by Reichheld in his book The Ultimate Question? "Good profits" are those made from customers who are so satisfied with the product or service that they not only buy more, they also become active promoters recommending the purchase to others. (For example, I love Netflix and XM Satellite Radio.) Bad profits are those from customers who become so disenchanted with their experience that they knock your product or service every chance they get. I wonder if deceptive campaigns might have actually set the table with detractors, who can poison the well of customers and have a damaging effect long after the phones stop ringing for the "successful" mailer.
Nancy Heifferon, Consultant Nancy.Heifferon@phelongroup.com
Returning from Leave to New Things Here
Friday, August 04, 2006
It's been a happening season at The Phelon Group!
Returning from a couple of months' leave, I wonder if I've stepped foot into the same firm. The Phelon Group family is nearing full capacity at headquarters, where we'd just moved into spacious new facilities last December. The conference rooms, workspaces and reception area have all taken on a whole new elegant look, not to mention some friendly new faces populating it all.
Our new VP of Client Services, Paula Stout, brings her talent in politics, PR, technology and executive strategy to the table. With experience from the likes of SAP, Cisco and the White House, Paula's injected our Client Services organization with some innovative new ideas to help our clients take charge of their customers as well as management.
As you know, appearances aren't everything, but it matters, and I'm enjoying the new digs and our expanded team. Look for more exciting new things to come from The Phelon Group.
Diana Ying, Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org