Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What I Learned About Influencers and Advocates By Being One

Step back in time with me: It’s December 1994, Boyz II Men is crooning “I'll Make Love to You” on the radio, Prodigy opens up the Internet to users of its online service, and a guy with a giant love for Disney decides it would be fun to create a web page. I launched a single-page called Lampwick’s Guide to Disney on the Web, never expecting doing so would turn into a five-year life-changing journey leading to a voluminous Disney fan site, a free trip to Disney World, and a new career in the nascent field of Internet marketing. I'd like to share three lessons that I learned from my experience as a Disney influencer and advocate.

My old Lampwick website

Lesson 1: Brands (Not Influencers) Must Prove Influencer Authenticity

When I launched my Disney fan site, I didn’t do it to become an “influencer” (a term no one used yet), but I did wish to become an “advocate” (in the original sense of the word—helping others—not in the way we think of it today in a world of billions of interconnected people who, some seem to think, exist to help brands raise awareness.) I wanted to share my love of Disney and help others to have their own great Disney experience. And therein was my first lesson about influencers and advocates—the best ones do it to help others, not to become famous or get free stuff.

Today, the “influencer” concept is such a part of our Internet-saturated culture that teens with a few dozen followers declare themselves influencers on Instagram, and it can seem there are more influencers on LinkedIn than there are influencees. While it might have been easy in the late 90s to spot early-adopting influencers on the embryonic World Wide Web or in Usenet groups, it is far more difficult in the era of purchased followers and #fakenews. That means the burden is on brands to use the tools at their disposal to find not just the loudest voices but the most authentic ones. Marketers have come to understand the largest followership does not necessarily mean the greatest influence, but recognizing the intent of influencer candidates requires more than just counting followers and looking for keywords.

Lesson 2: Commit to Building and Nurturing Influencer Relationships

As my Disney site grew, so did my visibility and influence. My site was included in Luckman’s World Wide Web Yellow Pages, an actual printed book of websites. (There was a time before search engines, you know!) And as my visibility grew, so did my interactions with the Disney Company.

Some of those experiences were quite exciting—like getting an early sneak peek at the plans for the Animal Kingdom park. But other exchanges with the company were frankly alarming. A Disney lawyer contacted me to accuse me of stealing IP (and was bemused to learn I was on his company’s PR mailing list). And one Disney “webmaster” (remember those?) reached out to inform me that the Walt Disney Company exerted copyright on any photos taken inside their resorts and, by the way, my site had hundreds of photos I’d snapped inside Disney World. He didn’t want me to take down my site—he just wanted me to understand my place. As a Disney fan and very active advocate, I found the discussion distressing, and it caused me to question my effort to maintain and grow my fan site.

To learn my second and third lessons, along with the long-term benefits of treating your advocates and influencers right, please continue reading this post on my Gartner blog.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Beware the Customer Experience Case Study

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash
Case studies. Everyone craves them. But are they success guideposts to follow, or might they have the power to mislead us?

The lure of case studies is that they offer us peeks at others' success, providing useful models or best practices to follow. But I've always feared that case studies can give something a veneer of believability, sparking within us a modicum of false conviction while leaving us no closer to action and success.

In my years covering and leading social media, I have seen the Oreo "Dunk in the Dark" tweet used as a case study dozens of times, and yet no brand has ever repeated that success. That brand victory was a lightning strike--an unrepeatable occurrence that transpired thanks to the exact right mix of event, audience, context, maturity level of social media, creativity, brand, and rapid action. A thousand brands and a million tweets later, few if any have managed to recreate the alchemy of Oreo's tweet heard round the world.

We may view case studies as patterns to follow, but how many case studies are like the Oreo example? If someone walked into a casino, put chips down on double zero and walked away a thousand dollars richer, his or her case study would not help you. You can step the same way to the same table with the same bet, and your outcome will not be the same. (Well, it would be the same one out of every 35 spins on average, but you could still go broke trying.)

Case studies are created for a reason--most are designed to sell you something or to help a professional promote their career. That should not make them immediately suspect, but it should cause you to ask questions.

To learn the questions you should ask and to ponder what you can (and cannot) learn from Amazon and Zappos, please continue reading on my Gartner blog.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Leadership's Essential Role in Customer Experience

Photo by Tim Graf on Unsplash
Many companies are striving to launch customer experience (CX) programs that will improve their growth, margin, and customer retention. In working with our clients, one of the challenges we see is a tendency to view CX as a tactical effort--something designed to seek out and resolve customer annoyances, particularly in customer service interactions. As a result, company's CX focus can be narrowed to activities like enhancing customer care processes, front-line employee performance, customer care hiring, and call center training. While these are all good and necessary efforts, this sort of myopia misses the point of what CX really is and what it can do for your company.

One financial services client had become frustrated with the lack of CX success. Years of investing in improvements to customer care had yielded little impact to the organization's overall customer satisfaction scores. Although post-call transactional surveys validated that the customer care group had improved service interactions, the relationship surveys across the entire customer base demonstrated little to no improvement. We worked through the numbers: Only 20% of customers contacted the company for service each year, and 80% of those interactions were routine (such as checking account balances), offering little opportunity for the company and its employees to make a strong and differentiating impression.

This meant that just 4% of the company's customers had an annual opportunity to be exposed to those sensitive moments that allowed the brand the greatest opportunity to provide a significant and memorable experience--an average customer would experience such an interaction once every 25 years. That did not mean the company had wasted its time--after all, the improvement in the transactional surveys demonstrated that the customer care group was achieving its goals of improving their interactions. Moreover, the brand recognized the value of minimizing negative customer care experiences since each one increases the risk of diminishing or severing a customer relationship. Nonetheless, the brand could not expect to foster a significant and measurable improvement in customer perception across its entire customer base by focusing only on a small set of relatively rare customer touchpoints.

Mature and robust CX programs not only identify and solve points of friction and dissatisfaction for customers, but they also help to foster a more customer-centric culture. This means not just helping front-line employees to provide better experiences on a case-by-case basis but also encouraging and assisting senior leaders to keep the customer in mind as they make decisions that affect the experiences of vast swathes of customers. Changing the structure of a loyalty program can instantly affect far more customers than training hundreds of customer-facing employees. And a change in return policy can anger a much broader set of customers in a shorter period than can an entire call center full of disengaged call center reps.

Changes to loyalty or return policies are just obvious examples of outward-facing executive decisions that impact the CX of large numbers of customers, but leaders also shape the culture and operation of the organization in a plethora of more important and subtle ways. The goals they set, the performance they reward, the way they balance short- and long-term objectives, the spending priorities they create, the customer-centric behaviors they model, and the products they approve all influence how employees act and thus how customers feel and what they say about the brand.

Consider Uber, the company that came seemingly out of nowhere to swamp the established and protected taxi market in a matter of years, just by providing a significantly better customer experience. Uber didn't win with advertising strategy or content--they won with CX, turning users into advocates. Customers flocked to Uber's on-demand service thanks to an app that called cars to their location, provided a highly-rated driver, permitted cashless transactions, and did so at a better price. But in 2016, Uber hit a significant roadblock that caused a number of its customers to abandon the service.

Nothing changed with the product--the app worked exactly as it always had and the rider experience remained positive--and yet customers quit the company when its long history of dubious leadership behaviors reached a tipping point that many found too much to stomach. Uber saw reduced customer satisfaction, degraded loyalty, and poor word of mouth, the three core measures of brand CX. Uber's leaders had built a better mousetrap but failed to account for how their decisions and behaviors could impact customer perception, retention, and advocacy. Uber's business faltered not because of tactical issues such as rude drivers or poor UI in its app but because leaders made poor decisions--the same advocacy that built Uber began to work against it. (Leaders often forget that advocacy is a two-way street and that brands are as likely to suffer from poor WOM that drags on trust and consideration as they are positive WOM that drives inbound traffic and sales.)

To read more, including six ways CX leaders can "manage up" and help to influence and support better executive decisions and a more customer-centric culture, please continue reading my blog post on Gartner.com.