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Lessons in Customer Engagement from the UNICEF Kid Power Program

In today’s fast paced, connected world, it has become crucial to engage with our customers, not just find ways to advertise to them. Customer engagement is actually a strong branding vehicle because it helps us align with the causes our customers love. And it can drive more profitable growth because it realigns our business with its higher purpose.

The UNICEF Kid Power program provides some great lessons for how businesses can drive such programs.

The purpose of our products

unicef-williamWhen my son brought home the UNICEF Kid Power band, I could see just 1 thing on his mind – he was doing good for someone else by being fit. The other features of the band such as counting steps, iPhone pairing, sharing with people etc. were not important at all. They were taken for granted. It was almost as if they didn’t matter because the decision criteria was different. In other words all the other devices were commoditized. He discarded other sophisticated devices once he knew his daily steps with this band would help a kid somewhere get better. This fitness band was different. The band drives fitness by driving a higher purpose. Perhaps, the struggles of the leading fitness wearable providers is probably because of this simple reason. They are fighting on features, while customer engagement is done on aspirations.

What is UNICEF?

UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) is an organization dedicated to helping children worldwide. It was established in 1946 and is headquartered in New York. Their primary stated goals are to:

  1. Solve the global problem of malnutrition: About 25% of the children worldwide are malnourished (with more in developing and poor countries) leading to severe health issues.
  2. Get children to be more physically active: In developed countries, the levels of physical activity have reduced by almost 50% leading to obesity and related health problems.

The Kid Power Program

unicef kidspowerThis is such a creative program by UNICEF! Essentially, through a fitness wristband, they encourage children and families to be active and unlock points, which in turn are used to unlock nutritional food packets supporting children worldwide that need help.

In addition, the program has created “Missions” which have a celebrity champion from sports or entertainment. These celebrities own a mission. For example, a mission to help 100 children in Haiti in 6 months. Every child worldwide who has the kid power band now can join the mission and start earning points by being more active. Every 2400 steps unlocks a point, and every 25 points unlock a food packet. Right now the key sponsors are Target and Star Wars, and  more are expected.

This year there are 170,000 children participating in the UNICEF Kid Power Schools Program – a teacher-led experience. In spring of 2016 alone, 61,000 students in over 2600 classrooms across 13 Kid Power Cities participated in the program. That was a 500% increase over 2015.

How does it apply to us?

What a wonderful way to be part of the community, and build a community. I hadn’t heard of UNICEF in so many years and then I heard it from my son. I remember how we had to be told what UNICEF and its mission was, and even then it was something remote, to be appreciated and admired, and join once we had the means. And now our kids are actually participating directly and contributing to the mission – without any money!

The simple – and not novel by any means – business lesson I took away was this: as the world becomes digital, and traditional business models fall by the wayside, who will win? My guess is that a business that has established an ecosystem and customer engagement through the right emotional connections with its customers will win.

Isn’t this just another advertising gimmick?

Depends on how you run it. By being in the middle of such an engagement program, you promise 5 things to participating members / customers:

  1. You will help them meet their aspirations
  2. You will bring like minded businesses and customers together
  3. You will not sell at every chance you get
  4. You will adapt your business model to align with aspirations of your customers
  5. You will engage continuously and actively

unicef-make-a-differenceThe first one is obvious. The second promise above means that you will get started with enabling a platform that other businesses can join to boost the program. In short, you will  do what today’s digital world is all about – build ecosystems. Just like health insurers are partnering with fitness centers, banks and retailers can join in too.

The 3rd and 4th promises above are linked because you will not sell, but you will adapt to provide enough value and reduce friction to the right level so that selling is natural and automatic. It’s a proven fact that value is no longer measured only in monetary terms if it enables something aspirational (that’s why branding exists). I might invest with my bank if the rates are reasonably comparable and if it helps me easily support  my favorite causes (aspiration), and if it makes it seamless to invest my surplus funds (feature). Moreover, I might favor one brand over another just because it aligns better with my personal passions – just like I am now a Unicef Kid Power dad although they don’t have anything like that yet. Ultimately that’s what a brand is if you equate away the core quality and price.

Such a program also forces you to look at continuous customer engagement and reinforcement, and not just when an offer is available. In fact, customers who have more meaningful touch-points and interactions with a brand or product are likely to spend more and be more loyal. An engagement program like this solves that problem comprehensively.

The UNICEF Kids Power program is only a model

The possibilities for customer engagement in a community are endless. The UNICEF Kid Power program shows again a model that is proven – people care and every business can help. For example, banks can solve the financial security and inclusion problem, health insurers and fitness centers can solve the problem of people coming out together and socializing, and retailers can solve the problem of clothing and food for all. We can be as inventive as we want to be with our goals, and the power of working together multiplies everyone’s reach manifold. Every hobby and passion in the world can be part of such a program, with every business driving what it chooses to. The model can of course be extended by introducing tiers of engagement, promoting social status, providing meaningful rewards  and recognition, linking different types of organizations and so on.

As we get connected, and go digital, the basic need for people to form communities and work together towards a cause must still be met. As business models are under pressure, some of these activities have taken a hit. But the UNICEF model shows how with a little bit of creativity, we can adapt our customer engagement models to become an integral part of our customers lives. When we speak of Omni Channel customer engagement, perhaps this kind of engagement should be a part of that strategy. Examples do exist such as the Amex OPEN program for small business, the CVS fitness program among others. Our business must mean something to our customers, because the products don’t make a brand (well, some do).

PS:

  1. Images taken from the Unicef Kid Power website. I encourage you to take a look at the program. I am in no way affiliated with them so this is not an advertisement.
  2. This blog is based on the principles in my latest book Connected! How #Platforms of today Will Become Apps of Tomorrow. Its free for Kindle Unlimited members. You can also write to me for a discounted paperback(signed by me if that matters at all!)

 

Fintech Innovation Watch – What’s next!

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There’s so much is happening in the financial services world that its enough to make your head spin. At the same time, if you take a look at the news today, you can see who’s getting it and moving forward, and who’s content with playing the same old game risking their very survival.

Here’s my Fintech Innovation Watch. With a twist! With every news item, I’ll also go out on a limb and derive some future potential innovations that might happen (or might not)!

APIs: Xero tied up with Capital One. Its a great partnership but the news is getting old now with Wells, SVB etc. already on this bandwagon. I’m sure better things are coming soon. This integration is great for a customer to import their bank transactions into Xero (and hence be happier with Capital One), but banks need to prepare for the new frontiers in customer engagement? For example, in a connected world, a simple 2-way API that helps build up context of the customer transactions that’s available in Xero to help with analytics on receivables and other cash management needs? The number of value added services (perhaps paid) that can be developed by banks are countless. We only need to look beyond the traditional products of business checking account and loans. Read the original news item here.

Core banking and community: In another interesting development, Fiserv signed up Apple Creek Bank. This is a small community bank in Ohio. The reasons for moving to Fiserv are based on traditional metrics of faster processes and providing additional digital services like PopMoney to customers. Fiserv has started to do that really well no doubt. And great goals by Apple Creek too. But if you think about it, the goals also reflect the pains of all banks who are severely constrained, and perhaps trapped inside their own perimeters. With less than deep pockets, many of them rely on their foundation platforms to carry them into the new world. Banking providers should be enabling Internet of Everything for community banks, and helping to actually build a community connected by exciting types of commerce. By serving same old same old, the community banking menu of offerings won’t be able to make escape velocity. Read the original news item here.

Payments: Then we see the continued rise of seamless payments. M&B restaurants are leading the way just like Uber and Lyft did, by making the payments and ordering seamless with Flypay. We order, we eat and drink, and we walk away. Its like Panera++ and Starbucks++! There’s also the added bonus of seamless loyalty across all the M&B brands, not to mention lots of labor efficiency gains. No doubt future enhancements like order ahead and recommendations are on the way, and we should be closely watching how these sector specific payment models will work with more traditional models such as cards and even Apple Pay. Will the list of payment options always be available? Going even further, will restaurant platforms open up APIs for ordering and payments  – to be skinned by anyone? Now, that would be a mashup to watch! Read the original news item here.

Robo-Advising: What a model this news represents! Something for all banks to think about. Danske bank launched its digital investment platform (June) to put to work deposits that are earning practically nothing where they are! Sure, all of us need a little cushion for the rainy day but lets face it – most of us have way more sitting in our checking accounts than we would like. So Danske has turned that simmering dissatisfaction into something of a delight. Independent robo-advisors watch out! Even though June itself is a robo-advisor it is showing us a model that so far has been limited to the large wealth managers like Vanguard and Schwabb. Now if only my own trusty old bank can get its act together, and actually help me manage my money better! Danske got a couple of things right – first they make it easy for customers to take an action, they offer a defined and tailored portfolio, and they’ve opened it up to customers outside of Danske. Now that’s a nice escape from the Innovators Dilemma and creating new business models of the future. Way to go! Read the original news item here.

Hope you liked my take on these innovations. Each of these innovations is awesome in its own right of course. It does take a lot of make a change, however incremental it may be. Do let me know what you thought of this Fintech Innovation Watch. These leaps of faith are based on the principles I used in my new book Connected! How Platforms of Today Will Become Apps of Tomorrow.

Thanks to Finextra for the daily sources. If you liked my take, do subscribe to the blog for when the next edition comes out in a few days. And PS: If anyone wants to partner up to target any of these innovations, look me up! Image courtesy Pixabay

Until next time!

Connected! is now live!

connected book frontExcited to announce from Barcelona, Spain, that my second book “Connected! How #platforms of today will become apps of tomorrow” is now live as a Kindle eBook! The paperback & hard cover versions will out through the distributors soon. I’ll also make the eBook available on Barnes & Noble & Apple in the next few weeks.

For a limited time, get  it now at the special price of 99 cents only!

This launch is truly special to me because it’s on my Dad’s birthday. I’ve been working towards this goal for a while, so its very fulfilling. 47K words seem to do just enough justice to this topic, and I did have this important deadline to meet!

The book covers some pretty awesome ground on how the new digital and connected marketplace is going to evolve, and how we can take steps to prepare our products and companies for it. The notion that platforms will become like apps is a very interesting one, but is also a gradually emerging reality. Something we should all be thinking about as we evolve our products and companies. I’m sure you’ll like the book. I’ll be posting blogs on on my website to cover some of the topics in more detail.

A note on reviews: Some independent reviews are coming soon, but do let me know if you’d like to review the book (a brief 2-3 sentence or longer honest review). As a sincere thanks, I’ll send you a signed paperback for free when the review is posted. Your reviews will help a great deal to spread the word, and to cover additional material through blogs and articles. The process is just a little involved when you don’t have a traditional publisher’s army behind you to guide you and do all the heavy lifting! I’ll appreciate your help. Access the Kindle eBook here.

Looking forward to yet another amazing journey! Adiós amigos, and see you soon!

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” – TS Eliot (courtesy Brainy Quote)

Customer engagement lessons from the holiday season

holiday-shopping-1921658_640-1Let’s start with some cool statistics to set the stage for customer engagement. The numbers are hard hitting. Online sales clearly exceeded offline sales as nicely explained here. 25% more people did not stand in early morning lines.  Obviously the availability of blockbuster deals is not an issue anymore. Good in a way but kind of takes some fun and thrill out of Black Friday.

More interestingly, 40% of online sales were dominated by Amazon. Wal-Mart and others are catching up slowly of course. The prediction is that the big retailers will outperform small and smaller retailers which is a bummer. And lastly all of this pales in comparison to what happens in China. The US thanksgiving TOTAL 4 day online sales are only about 10-15% of online sales on Singles Day!!

Here are some lessons I took away for creating deeper customer engagement:

Ecosystem is important

As we are learning from Amazon, eCommerce is not just transactions and volume, Its about stickiness. With Prime, affiliate marketing, and more products by more marketplace vendors, the ecosystem dwarfs that of other retailers. Consider the added advantages such as eBooks, Amazon video and so on. The question every retailer needs to start asking is very simple. What’s our ecosystem game? And how do we get started?

Mobile is beyond transactions

The steep rise in online sales means that more customers are transacting via mobile phones and tablets. Merely optimizing your mobile site or app does not help. Features such as re-targeting to remind shoppers of products they’ve looked at before, searching local inventory, and allowing social validation and interaction are crucial. In addition, the broad catalog sales approach must give way to more personalized shopping. For this, customer engagement on wishlists or social causes are good methods.

Customers need help planning

A few customers know exactly what they want and go for it. But many are impulsive shoppers. While we know that returns are expensive, online returns are even more expensive. Helping customers set goals, analyze their needs, figure out their gifting etc. is commercially smart. On the one hand, such customer engagement efforts will reduce buyer’s remorse. Even better, customers will avoid the feeling that they somehow lost out on the deals party. It will also help tie your efforts to a noble cause.

Digital commerce is truly here and gaining fast. What we need now is to reinvent our channels for true customer engagement.

The dilemma of digital banking is not about tech

scientist-762627_640I recently had the privilege of speaking at the BAI Beacon conference in Chicago. The topic was about the potential for APIs in financial services. The focus was on customer engagement.

Update: A more detailed version of this blog is now on BAI.org as an article titled: Pieces in Place: The Rubik’s Cube Model of APIs

This session presented a 3-step model for how opening up and become more connected will improve customer engagement. The 3 steps are below. You can read more on BAI under the pretty bubbly title of “Financial Services APIs: Amazing Potential Innovations“.

  1. Opening up access: Adopt APIs so we can make our services and products available when and where they are needed. This can boost top line growth and help retention.
  2. Originating transactions: Get in the middle of customer experiences to help initiate transactions that otherwise would be triggered elsewhere. For example, improve the adoption of features such as card linked offers, develop wish lists, provide better tools for personal financial management etc.
  3. Connecting experiences, creating value: Focus on improving financial well-being. Orchestrate between both banking and non-banking services. Such services include bill pay, PFM, investments, retailer loyalty programs, goal setting etc. Guide customers, advise them, and ultimately help them meet their financial goals.

However, one thought keeps coming up: Is the first step of this journey really the wholesale core technology and delivery transformation? Should that take place before we can do anything else? Indeed, if we go by popular opinion on financial technology (or FinTech), it does seem to be the case.

In my opinion, upgrade of technology is a reality that must be met as soon as possible. Doing so will help us deliver more efficiently. However, the immediate challenges have to do with customer engagement, differentiation, and building of context. This is arguably more so for full service banking. That is because their business purpose is higher (or can be higher) than simply helping us transact and hold balances.

If we look at what’s happening in the sector, its actually this higher purpose of financial money management and financial well-being, rather than the core banking landscape, that is being disrupted. Innovations are cropping up and aiming to meet peripheral customer needs. Such innovations include – personal financial management, saving for retirement and education, peer to peer payment transactions, lifestyle needs, product warranties, lending and mortgages, broad based loyalty management, and so on. As a result, it is evident that simply supplying various (and disjointed) products and services to customers to choose is not proving to be enough. We need to actively help customers with their goals.

Furthermore, two important considerations arise:

  1. As digital innovations drive customer experience based engagement, the underlying core is becoming more and more invisible and undifferentiated.  Given this trend, step 2 of the model to build context assumes higher importance. I outlined some approaches in this article on BAI titled Think Simple for Digital Transformation.
  2. Although innovations in Fintech provide better and effortless customer experience, the silo transactions may actually be causing defragmentation of customer engagement. So we should be looking at integrating the customer context where possible to drive immediate impact. Here step 3 of the model to build partnerships takes priority.

Those who have scale can start with Step 1 to build strong momentum in a broader market. But for others, there’s actually an opportunity to solve for customer engagement and context first. The underlying enabler will still be technology but they can first focus on creating models of customer and community engagement. These models will then demand various building blocks. And based on these we can then properly utilize and structure the core, if at all we can call it that in the future.

For those out there who are helping their organizations or clients think through these issues, please feel free to get in touch. I’d love to interview you for an upcoming series on best practices. As usual, most of the thought process in this post is based on the 5 principles from my book Dancing The Digital Tune, which are now being extended in my upcoming book – Connected! – How #platforms of today will become apps of tomorrow.

Referenced links:

Appreciate your comments!