Customer Service / Online Marketing – One Rock at a Time

How to move mountains – eCommerce & eMarketing strategy for success!

With Thanksgiving over it’s time to kick myself back into gear.

I’ve been lazy over the past few days and sleeping in this morning put me behind the 8-ball on a couple of projects.

I’m certain many of you are experiencing the same “it’s Monday tomorrow already” syndrome, and trying to get yourselves into a frame of mind for a full work week.

I’m motivating myself with the thought that my competition didn’t rest, they worked Wednesday and Thursday sandwiching Thanksgiving with 10 hours days because they want to beat me.

My competition isn’t lamenting about a poor economy or the high cost of materials. They aren’t cutting back on smart advertising or changing their focus on ROI-driven campaigns.

My competition is looking around for growth opportunities and better strategies to gain market share and new customers.

I’m not being lazy, because my competition is out to get me. Every day.

Are you ready for Monday?

When people arrive at your site, whether it’s for the first time or the 100th time they should know exactly how to meet their needs.

Directions should be clear, navigation should be consistent, layouts should be ‘clean’ and follow accepted standards.

Don’t make your visitors think to much to get the information, product or service they’re looking for.

Real world example: When you go to a restaurant and order your meal, do you want the waiter/tress to tap dance before they give you the menu?

Make is simple. People will thank you and return

Coffee shop brands are arguably more susceptible to passionate followers than most other high street brands.

As a regular Coffee Bean (CB) customer I will pass a few Starbucks (SB) on my search for a CB store and – horror of horrors – settle on SB if a convenient CB store cannot be found on my quest for the perfect cuppa tea.

Although my thirst and caffeine cravings may be quenched by either stores’ offerings (or Peets, Seattle Best, Einsteins, Dunkin’ Donuts, any other coffee shop) I tend to feel less satisfied if I don’t get to buy from my Coffee Bean brand. I curse Coffee Bean for not being more convenient, I lament the proliferation of Starbucks and I begrudgingly drink my SB cup of tea with slight disappointment.

Fast forward to today. I’m in Westwood (home of UCLA “fight, fight, fight!”) and I pop into a convenient SB near Wilshire and join the long line to order my ‘cuppa’.

The time in line gives me the opportunity to observe the 6 baristas behind the counter moving ensemble; greeting, fulfilling and serving the continuous stream of customers.

It’s awesome to watch!

No matter what the brand, or what my brand preference, one has to admire the seamless and confident way this team handled a hectic and potentially toxic workflow. Toxic? Not in the poisonous sense, rather the potential for upset, irate and / or dissatisfaction is high. One busy executive getting the wrong concoction, one tired student unhappy with their brew…

What impressed me about this workflow is how closely it mirrors a website experience.

Presentation: As I walked in, the level of excitement and energy was palatable… it made the first impression comfortable and welcoming.

Environment: The music, the subtle cross-sell, the display of food items (except for the breakfast sandwiches!), the economical use of space, contributed to the perception of a smooth passage of time as opposed to the 7 minutes wait it was.

Efficiency / usability: The ‘order taker’ baristas made certain what I said was repeated (to ensure it was correct), was exact (what I wanted), and was relayed to the fulfillment side of the business efficiently, and all this with a smile. No conveyor belt salutations or canned responses “have a nice day” was notably absent (thank you!). The process was simple and almost fun.

Delivery: Quick, efficient and correct. It’s not brain surgery to meet a customers’ expectations. Many businesses fail, simply because they complicate the process. Welcome – ask – confirm – produce – deliver. Easy.

Experience: All these facets of seamless and seemingly effortless service contributed to a great experience.

At the end of the day, no matter the product, customers seek an experience that meets or exceeds their expectations in delivering a product, service, or information that satisfies their needs.

A Starbucks may be a great offline example due to its focused product, consistent environment, brand messaging and solid in-store programs, but these elements are easy to duplicate online to create an exceptional and consistent online experience.

Stop into your local coffee shop and see how aligning an exceptional experience with your online goals can create the kind of experience your site visitors expect.

An orange spice with one equal for me, please.

Is good quality bad?

According to the economist on the panel addressing the Senate Committee, quality is a double-edged sword that leads to less cars being bought, primarily because they simply last longer.

Is this a bad thing?

Not for consumers!

On the web, should a website be constantly updated if quality is not an issue?

Should site updates be driven by necessity or by an arbitrary schedule?

Rhetorical questions!

Updates should be relevant, driven by users to some degree, and on a schedule as defined by business need, not decided by throwing runes or looking into crystal balls!

A site does not need to make significant updates unless it increases the quality, defined (by me) as:

(actual value / perceived value) * satisfaction——————————————————————(competition * actual defects)

Value is a factor of “what’s in it for me?”, “what do I need?” and “do you have it for me?”

To have actual value a site needs to provide what visitors need and allow them to easily and painlessly get it! Note: This could be information, a product, a service a connection etc.

Satisfaction, is the ability to deliver at or above user expectations.

Competition is a factor of uniqueness.

Defect is a factor of not delivering to expectations through issues or actions that could be resolved given insight, resources or technology.

Quality is a necessity. Quality attracts customers. Quality is good for business.

Online, website quality is a necessary goal.


Now will someone please get out there and tell the Big 3 Automakers to make better quality cars that people want and let a willing audience come to them! (And let me keep my tax dollars!)


Creating cool designs that provide ‘neat’ eye candy and little substance appear to be the norm for many creative agencies. Flash design is somewhat passé and almost certainly viewed as an obstruction by many users seeking their holy grail; information.


Usability has been a buzzword mostly centered on design elements, their colors, placement, size, shape and repetition. Fortunately, a few designers, strategists and thought leaders on the forward edge of the development curve have come to the realization that usability is as much about (or even more about) experience rather than design.


Expectations need to be met. Interactions need to have a purpose. Steps and pathways need to be meaningful. And most important, the experience needs to be intuitive, sometimes entertaining, relevant, fulfilling, and deliver to the needs of the user.


When looking at the naissance of a web presence, plan using experience as your guide by looking at interactions, goals, relevance, and delivery to, or above, expectation.


Once that plan is in place then consider how the design and usability can support and enhance the ‘experiential process.’


I love reviewing good design and then moving on. Good experience I’ll stick around for.

My 8-year old son asked me one of his ‘out of the blue’ questions this week as we drove to his school in Las Vegas.

“Why are there so many gas stations?”

I put on my marketing cap and told him that more places to buy gas, gives us more choice and competition gives us lower prices. (Supply and demand theory coupled with some branding concepts.)

I felt quite proud of my response until he asked “Why is there the same gas station on two opposite sidesof the street then?”

The obvious answer was “easier for people driving in different directions.” And this is in fact the case for both gas stations and Starbucks coffee houses. They sometimes place them close together (on opposite sides of intersections) due to traffic patterns and drivers inherent laziness!

‘Nuff said, but it got me thinking about the same scenario on the Internet.

There’s no apparent ‘closeness’ of websites in cyberspace. Sites, offering similar content, similar tools, or similar products may be located on servers on the other side of the world.

Where their worlds touch are on the search results pages where their relevance (as viewed by the search engines) is seen as similar or close to the search terms used.

Whether a user clicks on one link or another isn’t affected by laziness or traffic patterns, at that point the user is solely interested in finding information that is relevant to them and their needs. Search engines have done a great job of lining up all gas stations along our side of the road and letting us stop and fill up at any one of them. So what do we choose?

Gas stations pitch brand and price. I’ll stop at a Rebel or Arco station that’s cheap, rather than a brand that is more expensive. I am price driven (gas is gas, unless someone can tell me different).

Online the title and ‘snippet’ (at least on Google) may be all the user sees and makes their ‘click decision’ on.

Brand-driven decisions can be the result of including a brand name in your web page title. Cost-driven decisions can be the result of including the words ‘cheap’, ‘low cost’ or ‘economical’. Whatever the motivation may be, you have some control over what appears by creating solid content and by following basic on-page SEO techniques.

Attracting and converting ‘traffic’ depends on providing information of interest, following SEO best-practices, writing for your audience and then being able to make conversion paths easy to find and follow to goals (fill up the tank).

Constructing titles, descriptions and logical URL links makes sense in accurately describing what people should expect when they click.

Gas stations may be just about everywhere in Vegas, but your site only exists in search results pages that fit searchers’ queries. Make sure your provide enough to get the click, then the right octane gas to fill the tank and get those users to stop by again.

The current price of gas may be falling rapidly, but your information, products, tools? Priceless.

Understanding your audience means making yourself understood in language at their level of comprehension or allowing users to self-select pathways they understand.

Although you may not have to worry too much about the tom – art – toe English crowd needing assistance or translation, you should worry about the non-geek audience who may not understand your scientific or technical references.

Cater to all audiences by providing alternate content or explanation, links to external resources for clarification, or provide clarity as to whom your site or site content is tailored too, then let the audience self-select their preferred destination (or exit).

Never leave a prospect or customer feeling as if they are unimportant or feeling confused. Even if content is technical in nature, provide some simplification of the who, what, why and where so the site visitor *at least* knows whether they should be interested in sticking around (or not!).

Tom-ate-toe or tom-art-toe, all visitors have value whether as customers, word of mouth vehicles or eyeballs on ads.

Same goes for the ban-nar-nah crowd

🙂

Search engines are no more!

As the algorithms and personalization through technology improves, “search engines” is no longer a term one can use to adequately explain what feeds our quest for information and content.

As of today (make a note in your calendars) I hereby announce the death of search engines as we know it. From now on Google, Live, Ask, Yahoo and the slew of other ‘information funnels’ shall be known as “Found Engines

After all, it’s not the search that’s important, it’s what’s found and presented that is key to their success and our (as seekers of knowledge) satisfaction.

From my agency days springs the expression “Garbage in, garbage out” used in video and audio production meaning essentially, the best (audio / video product) quality comes from the best quality source material.

Sure, you could hide the occasional aircraft noise in a perfect 20 minute interview, but you couldn’t get pristine out of an interview at Grand Central Station with system announcements every 3 minutes.

Problems in post production were almost always solvable by exact and precise preparation before a shoot or audio session.

Same goes for web analytics.

Using Google Analytics as an example, having distinct goals and pathways defined to measure success will always give better and more actionable results than poorly planned goal implementation (or not doing it at all!)

Clients without transactional (i.e. purchase) goals on their sites often omit goal setting as they only believe the relevance is to dollars and cents results. Goals can be as simple as ensuring certain content is reviewed, or comment is left, or a click through is obtained (it could be between pages or sites or specific exit points.)

Data is the most valuable aspect of web analytics, setting real and relevant goals is a necessity in any search engine optimization campaign.

Dirty data in = dirty data out = waste (garbage or rubbish) of time.

Take out the garbage and benefit from the clean, fresh (and valuable) data!

I wanted to comment on history and give my thoughts to Obama’s online dominance as being a major factor in his victory.

Full disclosure, I didn’t vote… I couldn’t vote.

Currently stepping through the citizenship process, with the hope of voting in 2012.

This is the best country in the world to live in. I am grateful for the opportunity.


Learning from Obama’s online marketing & branding initiatives

 

Keep it simple.

One message, one brand (subtly tweaked for different audiences / constituents), one simple word “change”

Leverage technology

Online and offline, Obama’s campaign utilized a full gamut of tools and mediums that touched many constituents in both active and passive ways – “get involved” or “experience the brand”

The power of many with one goal

Social media, mob mentality or ‘tribe’ behavior, without a doubt empowering and powering many behind a common cause, with the tools to connect, contribute and communicate meant viral distribution and crowd frenzy ignited the Obama vote

Consistency

The brand and message stayed the same from start to finish (can anyone remember McCain’s first message??)  - it incorporated ‘experience’ 

Connection with the (target) demographic

Obama connected with his key constituents at many levels, primarily on emotional levels but also through ubiquitous technology junction points – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace etc. which captured and ignited the young and previously indifferent vote. Obama’s message was simple and easy to understand and consistent (see above and below)

Great article on the one-sided battle for the social media audience can be found here

Relevance

The message of change encompassed all woes, connected emotionally and was perceived as relevant to all potential voters… change in economy, change in war commitments, change in policies, change in taxation… everyone had something they wanted to have changed… it became a relevant battle cry people could (and did) rally around.

Continuity, Commitment

The Obama online campaign didn’t waiver or deviate based on polls or public opinion – it had a well planned strategy and timeline that it followed to the letter. I’m certain there was some flexibility and ‘tweaks’ that happened, but with no prior roadmap or campaign precedent to learn from they leveraged non-political ‘real world’ experience and success to plan a multi channel branding & marketing campaign as if they were launching a new cereal or auto brand. Note: Underscoring their continued online savvy, they just launched change.gov to inform constituents during and after the transition.

A new way of pitching politics and politicians

Treating the Presidential Candidate as a consumer product, carefully packaged and promoted (and at the right price to make the sale easier), the Obama campaign stepped out of the ‘normal’ mold of big smiles, big promises and baby-kissing.  Obama, as an eloquent and effective ‘brand ambassador’ was able to deliver and embody the brand message with a high degree of success (what greater change than a string of white to black?) – there’s a great visual here.

Final thought

Bill Clinton was known as the ‘First Black President’ by many, due to his support from the black community.

Obama has easily earned the title of the ‘First Internet President’ due to his mastery and ability to create an online tribe that both supported and drove his brands victory.

Thoughts?

The Best Analytics Program in the World is

Your ears.

Talk to your customers, elicit input, provide mechanism for feedback, test vigorously, beta updates to internal and external audiences, listen.

Analytics isn’t just about seeing who visits your site, it’s about ensuring the experience when someone arrives exceeds their expectations.

By consistently polling your customers, site visitors and prospects, you’ll have much of the information you’ll need to support your online success.

My son and I were at the local Port O’ Subs today.

He ordered a medium size sandwich, which weighs in about the same as his 8 year old frame, much to the astonishment of the lady in line behind him, and the ‘sandwich-barista’ behind the counter. The counter clerk went as far as to question him twice (I let him order his own sandwich) “Are you sure you don’t want a small?”

Known for his ‘hollow legs’ (as we say in England), he promptly finished the medium sandwich, down to the last piece of salami.

The counter clerk took the time to come to our table and admitted to my son with a smile, “I was wrong, I apologize for doubting a boy like you could eat the medium size” and then gave him an Oreo cookie for dessert by way of apology.

It doesn’t take much to make an 8 year old happy, just as it doesn’t take much to say “thank you“, “I was wrong”, or “you were right“, to a customer.

Any unexpected gesture that shows a customer or client you value them, their business and their loyalty is welcome and a long-term strategy for success.

Online, it’s often difficult to bring the same level of personal service, but there are ways of saying thank you with special, and most importantly, GENUINE, ‘insider’ offers, rewards, shipping discounts, money-saving tips, coupons or personalization to make them feel “Oreo Special

Sometimes, it a cookie moment that can make all the difference.

My son and I just got back from a prescreening of the Dreamworks Pictures movie, “Madagascar 2 : Escape from Africa” a fair flick, rated 71/2 out of 10 by both my son and I… “We like to move it, move it” 🙂

This was a press / focus group event at the Rave Motion Pictures in Town Square Las Vegas (nice venue) my son and I won through the local radio station.

Ticket said to “arrive early” so we got there at 8:45am for a 10am show – side note: this is the day after Halloween and it was obvious most kids and adults were suffering from a sugar-induced crash.

We were about 10th in line, and after about 30 mins the line had doubled, people were being herded and a few of the ‘wranglers’ arrived to give out theater entry tickets.

Some folks in front on us (and some folks behind us) were pulled out of the line and taken into the theater, so I asked one of the 20’s something wrangler why they got to go in (and we were still waiting), “Oh,” she said, “They’re on the list.”

Being the kind of customer-focused guys I am, I decided to pursue this (it’s fun too)...

Me: “Um, but we were on a list too”

Her: “Yes, but, they were on the other list”

This gets more interesting..

Me: “So how can I tell the difference between my list, and their list”

I swear to you, with a straight face, she said, “Because their list gets in first.”

Okay, I didn’t pay for these tickets, but I was just made to feel like a second class citizen, and then supplied with an explanation that was based on ‘fuzzy logic’ to say the least.

Are you treating your online customers the same way without realizing it?

Don’t assume that users / visitors know what they should and shouldn’t be doing and what they should and shouldn’t be entitled too in your model, make it clear and obvious and at best understandable by a 4th grader.

And if you do have a subscription model with different tiers, let users / visitors “peek behind the curtain” with trials or tours to show them what they could get if they paid / upgrade i.e. free 14-day offer

Treat everyone equal at the start of the goals tunnel, and you’ll find more will be with you at the end = conversions and loyalty.

And Madagascar 2? Go see it for the penguin and monkeys negotiating, if nothing else…

Back in the theaters with spit and grit

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