Customer loyalty. What does it mean to you? As a business owner or executive, no doubt you use it to measure success. When customers are loyal, they are more likely to spend with you on a continual basis. Which explains why a ton of effort goes into driving customer loyalty — in fact, you could say everything a business does is focused on securing that. But I venture that customer loyalty no longer exists. And here’s why.
Today’s customers are loyal to the quality of experience they have with brands. Great customer experience? They stick with you…until you fail and then, with a tap on the screen, they move on to the next business that promises to do better. They are not loyal to your brand – in fact, in a recent Harris Poll 71 percent of adults said that after just one bad experience, they would likely never use that brand again.
It’s not brand loyalty that’s up for grabs, it’s experience loyalty.
As a digital CEO, I believe digital must be a brand’s way of existing and staying relevant in today’s world — how you connect with, interact with, care for, compete for and embrace customers at every touchpoint. Digital is the new normal. It’s where we live and experience large parts of our lives today. And on digital, our customers expect personalized, caring, easy interactions with brands that leave them feeling highly valued — and always on the platforms of their choice. This is the new status quo.
When those expectations are not met, customers move on. The Harris Poll also revealed that nearly 9 out of 10 adults (87 percent) agree they would look elsewhere if a brand made them unhappy in any way. Second chances are few and far between, which means brands must get this right the first time.
So, how can you deliver a better overall customer experience while creating happy customers at every touch point?
1. Focus on customer experience just as much as (if not more than) your product.Product matters – but when it comes to happiness, experience matters more.
2. Pay attention to all digital touchpoints along the customer journey. Are your customers getting the same experience on your website, Facebook page, and eCommerce site? They absolutely must. Always be consistent.
3. Quit talking and focus on delivering a better experience. Big promises of being a “customer-centric brand” are empty if not followed up with action. Actions and experiences tell the real story. So, talk less and deliver more experiences that make the customer happy.
4. Be fun, be loveable, and speak to your customers as they would want to be spoken to. It’s easy for customers to walk away from brands that speak in corporate jargon. It’s much harder for them to walk away from a brand they could equate to being your less-than-perfect best friend.
5. Empower your biggest advocates to share their happiness. If it takes more than one click to share a great experience, that’s one click too many. Happy customers want to share their happy experiences, so make it as easy as possible for them to do so.
6. Pay attention to digital behavior. You use Facebook, but your target customers use Snapchat. Bridge that disconnect by building relevant digital customer experiences into everything you do as well as in every place your customers expect you to be.
7. Help your customers learn. Happy customers are naturally curious, so feed that curiosity. Take your customers on a journey from happy to informed.
8. Don’t mess up in the first place. Easier said than done, right? It only takes one snag to change perceptions. Your customers believe you are in the driver’s seat of your brand’s end-to-end experience. So, take control of that experience – and make it a positive journey from start to finish.
When you shift your focus to creating awesome experiences for all of your customers, you’ll find the right strategies that connect you to them in ways that matter. Make the experience with your brand so exceptional that they’ll never want to leave.
This article originally posted on Huffington Post on May 23rd, 2017.
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What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?Stephen Miles, Founder and CEO of consulting firm TMG, shared this with me, “Be a better leader by being a better follower.” It’s something he and I have discussed at length, and it’s absolutely vital for leaders to think about. We talk about things like “servant leadership”, reverse pyramids and working for the team, but this only works if you know when it is time to turn off your CEO or Senior Executive as leader speak and get in line with the team on the ground. I have seen executives ruin sales deals because they believe they are expected to synthesize all the material they are presented (second-hand usually) and offer up a “better and more inspired” strategy than what the team has already developed. Execs need to know when it’s time to help a process along, rather than lead that process.
What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The worst advice I ever got was to “develop my brand” as a CEO. It sounds totally disingenuous because it is! You should be authentic, true to yourself and your principles, and hire great people. Focusing on this and your actual reputation, not a deliberately constructed personality, will speak for itself.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry? Make sure you spend some time in a role that lets you directly interact with customers after the sale – customer service, customer success, support. You need to understand how your customers are actually using your product, the benefits they realise, how they measure ROI, challenges they face in implementation or general usage, how the product augments their role at work. Identify those customers you can have frank conversations with about what’s working/what’s not, and keep them close. This direct, authentic, ongoing customer feedback will keep you grounded as you progress in your career.
What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Learn to collaborate really well with people. It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how many hours you’re willing to put in. You’re going to need a strong team around you if you want to truly succeed. Don’t be someone who needs all the credit – you are the coach, not the player.
Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?
I specifically tell people to think more about who they work for individually than just the company they choose. Your individual manager has to most influence on what skills, capabilities, and professional development you have. We spend a lot of time trying to train our managers at Lithium how to be better mentors to their teams. I have worked for some amazing people, including Bruce Chizen, Shantanu Narayen, Dave DeWalt, and Joe Tucci. Each of these leaders had a lot to do with shaping my style, my way of interacting with my team and our customers.
This article originally appeared in IDG on January 17, 2017
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Civic responsibility on social media channels is a topic eating away at corporate leaders and the general populous alike. The grueling election race surfaced this topic time and time again, yet how to manage “good manners” online is a touchy topic that has not been addressed head on. Social media has shown an immense power to unite people and help bring about social change, demonstrated by events like the Arab Spring movement, and capabilities like Facebook’s Safety Check. However, social media has also shown its power to divide us as anger, racism, and rants of hate speech can run rampant. Where do we draw the line in how we talk to each other? Who owns civic responsibility when it comes to what is said on social channels?
The short answer? We all do. The anonymity of social media has for too long allowed people to speak without taking responsibility for the consequences of their speech. It’s all too easy to forget that behind every Twitter handle and Facebook profile is a real human being. It’s easy to blast away without truly considering how our words impact the other person or group. It isn’t just a personal issue. For those of us involved in building those social platforms and communities people engage on, we have a responsibility to lead change.
What is hate speech?
We know that what offends some people, doesn’t offend others. Yet, an empathetic human should have the capacity to understand the wisdom of the Golden Rule (do unto others as you want others to do unto you). The Supreme Court of the United States has strongly protected the freedom of speech, including hate speech, unless it incites imminent hate violence. There is debate about what constitutes those definitions and whether who is deciding it creates bias against other groups. That debate is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, what I’d like to focus on is our civic duty to protect the rights and well-being of anyone in the communities we are responsible for.
It doesn’t have to be law for it to be right
Recently, there was a meme that said “It’s no longer about whether they have decency, but about whether we do.” It referred to politics, but it’s directly applicable to this conversation. What kind of world do we want to live in? How do we want to relate to other human beings? What human responsibility as leaders do we have to protect our customers? Sometimes doing the right thing is just the right thing to do, even if the legal system still hasn’t caught up to define and enforce it yet.
There’s a fine line to walk. Outright censorship does not work. The perception that an entity is disallowing people to express themselves turns people off and may anger them. Customers won’t tolerate the idea that someone “in corporate” is arbitrarily deleting their right to say what they have to say. But as brands, perhaps we’ve catered a bit too much to the preferences of our customers and like lax parents, allowed the inappropriate behavior to go on too long and too far. While we can’t alienate our customers, as leaders we can clearly define what is and isn’t tolerable behavior, and institute consequences.
Tech and social giants are already taking action. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft have united in Europe to help mitigate hate speech across their channels. Twitter has deleted upwards of 350,000 accounts due to associations with terrorism. Facebook is working to evaluate reported posts and accounts quickly to help diminish hate speech. And realizing that outright censorship isn’t an option, they’ve begun taking unique and creative approaches – Facebook works closely with anti-hate speech activist groups by giving them ad credits, marketing resources, and strategic support. Periscope has taken what I think is a fantastic approach of crowd-sourced policing, in which they issue instant surveys to people in the conversation thread when a comment is potentially inappropriate, then based on the respondents’ feedback that person may be ejected from the conversation (or from Periscope altogether). With the social networks leading change, it’s time we as brands also step up.
So, how do you address inappropriate content, without going the route of flat-out censorship?
Understand the psychology. Most people are empathetic and receptive to calls to be more caring and compassionate. They want to be decent and treat others fairly. They respect brands who uphold human values. When they understand why you are stepping up measures to prevent inappropriate content, you give them a chance to be altruistic and rise to better behavior. Millennials especially relate to brands who demonstrate strong human values and openly extol their intention to make a positive difference in this world.
Be clear in what your policy is. Consult with your legal department and then draft and institute a policy that outlines an acceptable code of conduct for your community members and social channels. Share it openly and often. People need to know where the lines of accountability are, what constitutes crossing those lines, and what steps to take to report violations. Speak clearly about what the consequences of violations are, and inspire people to live up to the policy.
Put the right leadership and management in place. Every social community – online or offline – needs leaders who inspire positive human behavior, goodwill, equal rights, and kindness. The right leaders and managers make a critical difference by leading by example and living your community values. They should serve as the necessary guardrails that ensure the community and social channels stay on track, focus on common goals, and eliminate the noise, i.e., hate speech, trolls, etc. When inappropriate content comes up or violations are made, the right management will handle it with grace and authority, and the community will back them.
Leverage technology, but don’t let it replace humans altogether. Technology can assist in identifying and addressing inappropriate content with machine learning that flags it and facilitates reporting. But you also want to inspire community members to police themselves (as in the Periscope example). Brands cannot scale enough to identify all potential violations, so sharing reporting responsibilities with members is vital as is making it easy to report.
Run campaigns to reinforce positive behavior. The rules need to be clear and well known to all. Don’t hide them in your terms and conditions fine print (no one reads those!) … run campaigns that put this issue out in the open. Run them often. Enlist people’s goodwill. Remind people of why it matters to be respectful of others. Reward kindness and compliance.
We all must own responsibility to make our digital communities better places to reside. We have the power to lead people toward respect, kindness, empathy, and to teach our members how to listen to opposing viewpoints without resorting to personal attacks. Is it truly our responsibility to “parent” our customers? Perhaps not. But when you are given the opportunity to make life better for thousands, sometimes millions, of people, it just might be the right thing to do.
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.
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Today’s customer does business on his or her own terms: pitting airlines against each other on Expedia, using Edmunds.com to secure the best possible deal on a car, turning to Amazon to price match thousands of sources. In an increasingly digital world, today’s customer demands that businesses engage with them on the social and digital channels of their choice. Antiquated outsourced solutions are simply no longer a viable solution, with 67 percent of Americans saying calling a toll-free number is an absolute last resort.
Businesses know this, and believe they’re doing it pretty well, right? Evidently not. Research shows only two percent of businesses consistently respond to customer’s online posts and less than 40 percent ever engage with follower content. This is astounding, and akin to walking into a brick-and-mortar store, asking a question, and having the store rep completely ignore you. The failure to engage and service customers—regardless of channel—is a CEO problem. And it’s a big one.
Why? Because if we get it wrong, we risk losing an entire generation of customers. Former Cisco CEO John Chambers predicted last year that one third of businesses will not survive the next 10 years and that 70% of businesses will attempt to go digital, but only 30% will get there. The stakes have never been higher.
A new breed of customer
This is new territory, and in order for businesses to navigate it successfully, we need to deeply understand today’s consumer – what they want from brands and how to meet their expectations. A recent Harris Poll sheds some light on the subject, informing how we should connect with this new breed of customers. For example, the younger generations of Millennials (20-39 years old) and emerging consumers Gen Z (16-19) don’t like our outdated methods of “broadcasting” messages at them. They want to engage. In fact, the study finds 74% of millennials and Gen Z consumers do not like being targeted by businesses on social media, with 57% having actually stopped using certain social media sites because of paid advertising that appears in their news feed.
These consumers want companies to understand who they are as people, not just as a sales target. They are sharing their passions, preferences, likes, dislikes across social channels. Those businesses that can tap into these signals the customer is putting out, and harness the right data on social will be able to deliver outstanding, personalized experiences. The payoff could be huge, as the younger generations are predisposed to trust brands who get social right. Harris Poll reports 54% of younger Americans trust social networks, compared to 32% of older adults. And Forrester finds that 62% of Gen Z consumers agree that once they’ve chosen a brand, they stick to it.1
What it will take to get it right
As brands, we can either continue lamenting these consumers’ demands, or accept them as the new norm. I recommend the latter. The sooner we grasp the indelible way digital is changing our way of life, the faster we can respond with changes that align to it. We need to stop applying outdated methods of speaking AT customers and talk WITH them through engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, online communities, forums, blogs – anywhere they show up. We need to be available to our customers, and give them the choice of how and when to seek us out and engage with us. We have to take a personalized approach. We need to realize that building strong, authentic relationships with 100 consumers benefits our brand more than serving up a fleeting ad to 10,000. Those businesses brave enough to take this essential step, who do their due diligence and connect authentically with their customers in the right places, stand to win it all.
We can’t afford anything less.
(1) Forrester Research, how to build your brand with Generation Z, 2013
*This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post
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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the sheer volume of data and expertise we’re sitting on at Lithium. It’s staggering:
400+ current communities across industries and regions, and all of them SaaS-based so we have current data from each at our fingertips
Over 100 million visitors cross our platform every month, one of the largest digital footprints in the world (about the same size as Pinterest)
750 million user profiles scored by Klout, the result of processing 45 billion interactions daily
Over a decade of experience in creating robust social communities, an industry veteran in our Chief Scientist Dr. Wu, and a talented Klout data science team
Anyone can throw out big numbers and claim to have a “big data” story. Forget big data, I want to talk about what we can do with the data. I want to make sure we draw on our expertise to sift through and analyze our proprietary data, and extract what’s actually meaningful from it for our customers. We have to use this data for competitive advantage for our customers, helping them to answer: How am I performing? And better yet, how can I do better?
Building on our Community Health Index (CHI), today we’re announcing two new analytics offerings – Lithium Cohort Benchmarking and Lithium Value Analytics – that take our data further in answering these customer questions. Cohort Benchmarking lets businesses benchmark their community performance against other brands by geography, industry and maturity using a series of 15 different metrics such as unique visitors, replies and solutions. Value Analytics is a way for brands to measure the performance of their communities and gauge the community’s overall impact on their business. With these new offerings, customers will have the evidence to ensure that their social/community strategies are working. They’ll have the right data to prove to other stakeholders across their company that these are working. And most importantly, they will have insights that show them what future improvements should be made. More on both here.
Owned communities are essential to any Total Community strategy. There absolutely must be a strong, vibrant, robust community at the core that you can nurture and drive people to – a social and digital hub, if you will, where your customers interact with you and each other – and where you engage with them. Benchmarking and Value Analytics remove the guesswork from that process.
More on Lithium’s data story to follow. Watch this space!
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