Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Category: Customer Service (page 1 of 6)

Turn your data geeks into customer geeks

an image that says 'I love data"What would you do if you had so much data about your customers that you know could know (almost) everything about your customer when they contacted you? Better yet, what if you had the ability to instantly know the exact offer for service or product that would pitch the right ‘sales’ approach that your customer would immediately sit up, take notice and spend money?

Most of you would jump at the chance to have this information about your clients.  You may be willing to open up the checkbook for a huge amount of money to make this happen.  What if I told you that you don’t need to do much more than get a better grasp on your data and understand how to use that data to build a 360 degree view of your customer?

Granted, you may need to collect a bit more data (and perhaps find new types of data) and you may need to implement some new data management processes and/or systems, but you shouldn’t have to start from scratch  – unless you have no data skills, people or processes. For those companies that already have a data strategy and a team of data geeks, building a customer-centric view with data can be extremely rewarding.

Many companies consider themselves ‘customer-centric’ and have built programs and processes in order to ‘focus on the customer.  They may have done a very good job in this regard but there’s more than can be done. Most organizations have focused on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as a way to help drive interactions with clients.  While a CRM platform is important and necessary, most of these platforms are nothing more than data repositories that provide very little value to an organization beyond the basics of ‘we talked to this person’ or ‘we sold widget X to that customer.’

Utilizing proper data management and the data lake concept, companies can begin to build much broader viewpoints into their customer base. Using data lakes filled with CRM data along with customer information, social media data, demographics, web activity, wearable data and any other data you can gather about your customers you (with the help of your data science team) can begin to build long-term relationships built on more than just some basic data.

In addition to better relationships with your customers, a data-centric approach can help you better predict the activities of your customers, thereby helping you better position your marketing and messaging. Rather than hope your messaging is good enough to reach a small percentage of your customer base, the data-centric approach can allow you to take advantage of the knowledge, skills and systems available to you. Additionally, this approach will allow your data team to create personal and individual programs and messaging to help drive marketing and customer service.

Originally published on CIO.com

Customer Engagement: A Data-Driven Team Sport

Customer Engagement: A Data-Driven Team SportWhat would you do if you had so much data about your customers that you know could know (almost) everything about your customer when they contacted you? Better yet, what if you had the ability to instantly know the exact offer for service or product that would pitch the right ‘sales’ approach that your customer would immediately sit up, take notice and spend money?

Most of you would jump at the chance to have this information about your clients.  You may be willing to open up the checkbook for a huge amount of money to make this happen.  What if I told you that you don’t need to do much more than get a better grasp on your data and understand how to use that data to build a better overall view of your customer?

Granted, you may need to collect a bit more data (and perhaps find new types of data) and you may need to implement some new data management processes and/or systems, but you shouldn’t have to start from scratch unless you have no data skills, people or processes. For those companies that already have a data strategy and a team of data geeks, building a customer-centric view with data can be extremely rewarding.

This customer-centric, data-driven approach is what most organizations are driving toward with their digital transformation initiatives.  Graeme Thompson, Informatica CIO, has argued for the importance of a customer-centric approach for some time. According to Graeme:

“You have to think about [digital transformation] in a connected way across the entire company.  It’s no longer about executing brilliantly within one functional silo. CIOs see the end-to-end connection [of different functions] across the entire company – how all these different processes need to work together to optimize the outcome for the enterprise, and, most importantly, for customers.”

Many companies consider themselves ‘customer-centric’ and have built programs and processes in order to ‘focus on the customer.  They may have done a very good job in this regard but there’s more than can be done. Most organizations have focused on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as a way to help drive interactions with clients.  While a CRM platform is important and necessary, most of these platforms are nothing more than data repositories that provide very little value to an organization beyond the basics of ‘we talked to this person’ or ‘we sold widget X to that customer.’

These ‘customer-centric’ companies can be even more custome​_r-centric by becoming a data-driven organization. They have taken a small subset of customer data and built their entire customer engagement process around that data set.  That approach has worked OK for years, but with the data available to companies today, there’s no need to rely solely on that small data set.

Utilizing proper data management and the data lake concept, companies can begin to build much broader viewpoints into their customer base. Using data lakes filled with CRM data along with customer information, social media data, demographics, web activity, wearable data and any other data you can gather about your customers you (with the help of your data science team) can begin to build long-term relationships built on more than just some basic data.

In the white paper titled ‘Game Changers: Meet the Experts Behind Customer 360 Initiatives,’ there are some very good examples of how companies have become much more customer-centric and data-driven.  A few examples from the paper are:

  • FASTWEB uses Salesforce as much more than just a CRM. Their Salesforce instance includes a view into the customer by providing lists of latest invoices, the status of those invoices, payments and other key customer relationship data.
  • PostNL, a mail, parcel and e-commerce company, has changed their focus from simple ‘addresses’ to one that is focused on the customer by focusing first on data, then on the customer. No longer is their focus on getting a package from point-A to point-B, it is on using data to ensure the customer’s needs are met.
  • Bradley Corporation, a 95-year old manufacturer of plumbing fixtures implemented a Product Information Management system to ensure that data is up-to-date and accessible for their more than 200,000 products. This system simplifies the ability for their customers to find the right parts quickly and easily.

In addition to better relationships with your customers, a data-centric approach can help you better predict the activities of your customers, thereby helping you better position your marketing and messaging. Rather than hope your messaging is good enough to reach a small percentage of your customer base, the data-centric approach can allow you to take advantage of the knowledge, skills and systems available to you and your data team to create personal and individual programs and messaging to help drive marketing and customer service.

Originally published on CIO.com

A cautionary tale of credentials vs professionalism

My wife and I have had our house on the market for 6 months with very little traffic into the house and no offers.

With the real estate market and economy the way it is today, its very easy to blame ‘the market’ for the length of time on market.  Its very easy to shrug it off and say “it will just take time to sell.”

While its easy to blame ‘the market’…I do think part of the problem is the local market. We live in a neighborhood that is still building out.  We live in a town that has very high taxes compared to our neighbors (although the town is considered a very good place to live in the Dallas Metroplex).  We have a nice house on a corner lot with a good layout and quite a bit of room (over 3000 square feet of space).  We feel the price is right when compared to the other houses in the neighborhood, including the new houses being built.

But…

Is the price right for this market? Is the price right for us to actually be able to attract a buyer to our town and our neighborhood?  Do we have the features in our house to be able to demand that price?  We feel the answer is “yes” to all those questions…but…we still haven’t sold our house.  Or even had an offer.

So…what’s the problem?

Just because we think our home price is reasonable, doesn’t mean it is. Just because we want $X for our home, doesn’t mean its worth it….and a Realtor should tell us that.

That’s where a professional comes in.  Not just a realtor…but a professional.  A professional will tell us if we are wrong. A realtor can list a home…but a professional will sell a home.  There’s a difference between being a licensed Realtor and being a professional Realtor. In a market like we are in today, you can tell the professionals from the license holders.

Our listing expires at the end of December. We’ve decided that we are not going to renew the contract with our current realtor.  Why? Because I don’t see the value in what she’s provided to us.  This Realtor hasn’t gone out of their way to market our home. Anything that we’ve done (open houses, listing on the web, etc) has been done at our insistence and/or by us).

We’ll be listing with another realtor in January.  Will it help? Who knows. The market isn’t that great (see…there i go blaming the market again).

Before listing this time, I’m going to do my homework. I’m going to find a realtor that is a professional. I’m going to find someone that will tell me the truth rather than what i want to hear.  I’m going to find someone that will work their tail off to get people into the house and sell it.  They find a way to build a level of trust with their client.

There’s a huge difference in having a credential and being a professional. A realtor isn’t necessarily a professional because of the credential.  A project manager isn’t a professional just because they gained some experience and passed a test.   Sure…you can call yourself a realtor, project manager, doctor or airline pilot if you ‘pass the test’ but you won’t be successful unless you do the hard work that it takes to be a professional.

Something to think about.  Are you a professional or just a credential?

Recovering from Bad Customer Service

I love good customer service.

Receiving excellent service from a company / person makes me feel good…it makes me happy and makes me excited to revisit that company or person for future business.

The opposite is also true…I hate bad customer service.  I hate it with a passion.

I understand that great people and companies provide poor service occasionally. Every company has issues with their customer service.  Sometimes you catch someone on a bad day…sometimes you fall into a process ‘crack’ and your issue is missed.

The difference between a great company with great service and an average/poor company…is actually in the fact that the company / person realizes that they made a mistake and then how they respond to that mistake.  The difference is how a company recovers from bad service.

Recently I ran into a company that I’d classify in the ‘worst service’ department – at least initially. I’m not going to name any names here but I want to share the experience.

I ordered a device from this company to use for streaming shows and movies at home. Rather than order through a retailer like I normally would, i decided to buy directly from the company…big mistake on my part.

After a reasonable time, I received the unit. I unpacked it and plugged it in.  And nothing happened.  I unplugged everything and reattached it…again nothing.

I took the unit to another TV and tried it there.  Nothing.

After multiple attempts and much research online, I came to the conclusion that this unit was dead-on-arrival.  So…I went to the company’s website to find their support information to ask for help.

I submitted a support ticket…and was told afterwards that they’d be in touch within 48 hours.  48 hours is an awful long time to wait for a response…but I figured I’d give them a chance. 3 days later I still had no response.

So…I tried to call them.  Nothing…I couldn’t get to a live person.  So..I tried their live chat.  Nothing….it wouldn’t connect me at all.  So…I emailed them again.  Nothing.

Finally…I tried the last ditch effort…I went to Twitter.

Funny…after I ‘tweeted’ them that I couldn’t get any response, I received a response from their social media team.  It was quick, courteous and provided me with contact info.  Funnily enough…I also received a response from their Customer Service team within a few hours.

That response via email was short and worthless…it basically said ‘thank you for contacting us…please try to plug the unit in somewhere else’.  Worthless.

After a week of back and forth via email and attempted phone calls, I was still waiting for a resolution.  I’ve been told to call their 800 number to get an RMA for the power supply so I can get a new one…but I’ve yet to be able to get in touch with anyone at their 800 number.  Worthless.

So now I sit here waiting again. I’ve had this unit for a week with no luck. I’ve reached out to their service department multiple times with no luck.  Their social media team seems to be willing to help but I’ve yet to see any results from their intervention.

All i want is a working unit or a refund…but these folks don’t seem to understand how to respond in a manner that provides any level of confidence that they have a clue what Customer Service actually means.

This morning, I received a phone call from an engineer at the company who started the call with a profuse apology and asked for my address so he could overnight a new product to me.  He didn’t ask me for any particular details about the box that doesn’t work…he didn’t ask me to send it back or do anything else with it…he just apologized and said that I’d be receiving a new box soon.

With this one act, this engineer made a very bad situation much better. Has he redeemed the company in my eyes? No. Has he made up for their lack of service? No.  But…he has started down the right road.

This company is on the road to recovering from a really really bad situation…let’s hope they follow through on their promises and I have a new unit in my hands before the end of the week.

Still, the question has to be asked…can you truly recover from bad customer service? Although this engineer is working towards a recovery, will I ever trust this company again enough to order from them and/or recommend their products?  I’m not sure…we’ll see how the next few days go.

Pointing Fingers, Placing Blame…and losing customers

[Social Media Week] E se fossero i Social Media ad usare Voi? By Simone Lovati on flickrA few months ago, I joined the popular photography website 500px (you can see my portfolio here).

500px is a great website and has become a very popular destination and portfolio site for photographers with many folks proclaiming it as aserious challenger to flickr.

In addition to its great layout, design and feature set when 500px is compared to flickr, one of the interesting aspects of the 500px service is the ‘storefront’. This storefront allows a photographer to allow their photographs to be listed for sale using the FotoMoto service, which provides a fairly seamless way of adding a shopping cart to a portfolio of images.

FotoMoto has approached the market differently than others in the field of image printing and logistics. I don’t know of another service like FotoMoto where you host images yourself using whatever technology you’d like and then integrate the FotoMoto javascript into your website. Its a very interesting approach and different that competitors like SmugMug and Zenfolio.

The only complaint I have about FotoMoto is this – it isn’t seamless to the user. While most of the eCommerce activity (adding a photo to a cart, etc)  takes place on your site (or the 500px portfolio in this case), there is a lot of FotoMoto branding involved. In addition, the final checkout is performed through the FotoMoto website and the logistics are then handled by them completely.  Not a bad thing…but sometimes not ideal if you want to control the customer experience from start to finish.

That said, I do like the service provided. Its clean, easy to use and fairly straightforward.  Although I don’t use it on 500px, it is  a valuable offering to users. Or…it was a valuable offering.

The dreaded Finger Pointing

Yesterday, I received an email from 500px stating that the 500px / FotoMoto integration is coming to and end.  A copy of the email in its entirety is below.

Changes to the Store

Dear friends,

First of all, let me say a huge thanks to all of you — without you none of this would have been possible. This year 500px has seen tremendous growth and development, and although the ride was bumpy at times, our dedicated team members always stood behind the platform, solved the most challenging problems and did their best to offer our users the best experience possible.

There are many exciting things planned, you will see them live on the site in the nearest future.

One of the most requested changes is coming very soon — we are completely redesigning and redeveloping the photo store experience on 500px. The current 500px photo stores, provided by our partner Fotomoto, are not ideal. Its platform, although powerful and feature rich, does not quite satisfy our high demands for quality of the user experience. So, we will not extend our contact with Fotomoto, and they will end supporting stores on 500px on September 27, 2011.

We are working hard to make the transition as seamless and transparent as possible. Most of the features you are used to will be preserved in the new 500px stores. And the look and feel will be completely new and improved.

As always — great user experience is our top priority, this will never change. If you would like further information on our roadmap and future development, follow us on Twitter: twitter.com/500px

Oleg Gutsol,

President and Technical Director, 500px

After reading the email, I was a little sad to see the FotoMoto service leaving 500px but also interested in seeing what was coming down the road…good stuff it seems.

Within a few hours of receiving the 500px email, I received an email from FotoMoto.   A copy of the email in its entirety is below.

Dear Fotomoto / 500px members,

As you may already know, Fotomoto is going to stop providing service to 500px platform at the end of today. Unfortunately 500px didn’t meet their business and technical commitments. After several unsuccessful attempts and unanswered emails to solve their issues, we had to send them a notice last week informing them that we are terminating our contract with 500px (which is a slightly different from what they mentioned in their email).

If you have sold any photo(s) using Fotomoto, your Fotomoto balance is available to you at your Fotomoto dashboard. And of course, Fotomoto will still be available on your other websites and platforms.

We apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused. As always, we are committed to our members and to our product experience. In the next few weeks you will start seeing more print products and more features from Fotomoto, stay tuned.

Best regards

Ahmad Kiarostami

Co-founder and CEO

Interesting.  Two emails with two different approaches.

The first from 500px was professional and stated that 500px and FotoMoto were parting ways in a professional manner.  Contrast that email with the FotoMoto email. Within the first paragraph, they begin to point fingers and place blame.  Compare that to the 500px email – which starts out thanking users and praising FotoMoto but claiming its time to move on.

Whenever I see this type of finger pointing, I can only think poorly of the company doing the pointing.  In this case, FotoMoto has lost a great opportunity to take the high road. How nice it would have been to have the an email from them saying ‘we are parting ways but have nothing but good things to say about 500px – good luck.’  That would have been classy.

Instead, FotoMoto places blame on 500px.  They claim emails weren’t answered. They claim 500px is to blame. They are pointing fingers.

Here’s a little piece of advice for the FotoMoto team (and anyone else):

Customers don’t care who’s at fault. We just want to know what’s happening and how it affects us…and what you are going to do about it or what we need to do about it.

At the end of the day…I don’t care if 500px was at fault or if it was FotoMoto who messed up…all I care about is how this will be resolved so I can continue to use the service(s).

Don’t place blame or point fingers.  Take the high road….it might be more work and a longer trek, but you’ll be surprised at how far that road takes you.

For me – this episode was all it took to cross FotoMoto off my list of preferred vendors / services…a simple act by the CEO of sending out a poorly thought out email caused FotoMoto to lose me as a customer.

Image Credit: [Social Media Week] E se fossero i Social Media ad usare Voi? By Simone Lovati on flickr

Competing with Amazon

Best Buy, You Disappoint Me By Rob Boudon on flickrI’m a huge fan of Amazon.

Over the years, more and more of my purchases have moved to Amazon. I’ve bought books, coffee, electronics, camera equipment and just about everything else you can think of.  They have everything…and they are cheap too.  Plus…..the whole free shipping (with prime membership) and no taxes makes it that much better.

So…how can a brick and mortar store compete with Amazon?

The first way – the store is ‘there’ for those folks that need something NOW.     Another way – Price matching.  Yet another – service.

Competing with Amazon – Fry’s

Take Fry’s for example. They have a store that I can visit when I need something ‘now’.   I make a visit to their store once or twice a month when I need something ‘today’.  Even better, they’ve started price matching other competitors.  Now…I can pick up something from Fry’s and pay the same price as Amazon – which is nice for those things I can’t wait for.  Sure…I pay taxes but that’s not too bad usually.  Additionally, Fry’s staff are usually pretty friendly and helpful.

So..While Fry’s isn’t my first thought for electronics and computer equipment, it is #2 on my list (Amazon is #1 of course).

I don’t know how well Fry’s is doing financially, but I suspect they are doing OK…the local store is always packed so I suspect their revenue is decent.

Fry’s has found a way to compete.  They have brick and mortar stores, they have an amazing selection, have decent prices and provide pretty good service.

Will I always buy from Frys’?  No…I’ll look online first.  But…I’ve come to the point of checking Fry’s to see what they have.  They’ve done a decent job of getting ‘mindshare’ from me.

Now…let’s compare and contrast Fry’s with the disaster that is Best Buy.

NOT competing with Amazon – Best Buy

I’ve found myself really loathing Best Buy (BB) lately.

When i go into a BB, I walk around in a daze.  I can’t find anything as there’s not really any organization (at least at my local store).

I can’t find anyone to help if I have questions…what happened to all the Blue Shirts that could answer my questions?

The prices aren’t bad but they aren’t good enough to lure me back time after time.

An example – I visited BB this week to pick up a laptop hard drive.  I needed it that evening since my wife’s laptop hard drive had become corrupted.  The closest store was a Best Buy (and it was also next to another store my wife wanted to visit).  So…off we went to BB.

I dropped Tracie off at the other store and went to Best Buy.

I walked back to the computer area and began looking for hard drives.

And I looked.

And I looked.

I walked around every aisle with no luck.

I searched for a Blue Shirt but couldn’t find one…finally, I stepped into the break area in the back of the store to see if I could find some help. There were 10 employees back there doing what looked like nothing (I could be wrong…they may have been in a meeting but it didn’t look like it). I asked for help.

One of the blue shirts reluctantly agreed to help me.  I told him what i was looking for and he led me out to the hard drives. They were on the opposite side of the store from the rest of the computer ‘stuff’…poor location for sure.

Once I found the hard drives, I was surprised at the lack of selection. They had a grand total of three hard drives for laptops.  Not three different types…three drives that were all the same.  And…of course, they weren’t the size or speed that I wanted.

I asked the blue shirt if that was his entire selection and he said ‘Yes’.   My response to him was ‘how do you stay in business’.

Disappointed, I pulled out my phone, pulled up the Amazon.com App, found the drive i needed and ordered while standing in Best Buy (with the Blue Shirt watching me). I got a better drive (more space / faster drive) for about $50 cheaper than the BB small/slow drive.

After this latest experience at Best Buy (there were many many more disappointing experiences before this one), I have to ask myself…what is Best Buy’s focus?  Are they a computer store? An entertainment store (movies, electronics, etc)?  What are they?

Their focus is hard to discern.  But…Fry’s isn’t really focused either…and they seem to be doing OK.  So…what’s the problem?

I can’t answer that question…but I can say there’s a problem with Best Buy. If they are going to have a broad focus (computers, hardware, cameras, entertainment, appliances, etc etc) then they need to have the appropriate inventory and selections to be compete.

Not only does Best Buy not compete with Amazon, they aren’t competing with Fry’s.

There’s a broad lesson here…

If you’re going to compete, then compete. Don’t try to compete.

Don’t try to be all things to all people if you don’t have the capabilities.

In today’s world of electronics, books, computers (and darn near everything else) – you’re competing with Amazon.  To succeed, you’ve got to provide something of value to your potential clients. You’ve got to provide service and you’ve got to have what people want.

The same can be said for every other industry.

If you’re a social media consultant, what are you bringing to your clients that they can’t get elsewhere?

If you’re a professional wedding photographer who charges $2000 for a wedding, what are you doing to show that you deliver value over the $200 wedding photographer?

As a technology consultant, I pride myself on being much more than a technology consultant. I know technology, but i also know a ton about marketing, business, finance, HR and other areas of the business plus I understand the processes within those functions.  I deliver more value for my clients than other technology consultants do.

The main lesson here – if you’re going to compete with the big dog(s), you’ve got to be focused, you’ve got to deliver and provide top-notch service your clients.  Amazon is the big dog…they know how to do that. Fry’s has figured out how to compete.  Best Buy has lost the competive edge.

Are you going to be the Amazon, Fry’s or Best Buy in your industry?

Image Credit: Best Buy, You Disappoint Me By Rob Boudon on flickr

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