Tag Archives: Customer engagement

Pokemon Go beyond the initial rush?

pokemon-1555036_1280Timing is everything. Brands and businesses worldwide were quick to cash in on the Pokemon Go launch mania. Businesses jumped in with all kinds of promotions and offers as millions of people took to the streets hunting Pokemon on their mobile phones (I did too). For the most part, the promotional tactics for customer engagement by businesses can be categorized as:

  1. The lucky ones – some businesses were just plain lucky that their locations became part of the predefined Pokestops (where players come to collect virtual goodies) or Gyms (where players pit their Pokemons in battle). If you could handle the additional but distracted foot traffic, then you have the games inherent features working to your advantage. You can set up Lures for a few dollars and can make your location a hot bed of Pokemons to catch, or you could create specific promotions around the Pokemon battles if you are a gym. The possibilities for creating awesome customer engagement are endless and all that’s left is to tie these events to products and services.
  2. The not-so-lucky ones – Then we have the unlucky ones who got left out from the initial list of locations for Pokestops and Gyms. (these locations were pulled from another game and imported into Pokemon Go). These businesses who did not fall in a designated Pokestop or Gym area are relegated to running promotions the old way and hoping to catch some of the glitter associated with the hot new game. For example, Uber launched a promotion where you get free Uber rides if you catch a certain number of Pokemons in a given time. Other retailers launched similar promotions and invested in Lures at Pokestops nearby to try to get foot traffic in, and to get some brand recognition going. Still others launched offers where gamers can post pictures of Pokemon captured in their locations, while others launched Pokecrawls with series of stops to enjoy discounted drinks, catch Pokemons and meet other people. However, all said and done these customer engagement efforts didn’t really need to leverage Pokemon Go specifically. The only reason to do so was the novelty of it all. And that’s going to fade after a while.

As the novelty of the game wears off, what can the second category of businesses do to tap into this and other such developments sure to come up in the future? While its important for these brands to find a way to drive customer engagement, it’s also effort probably well spent. Thinking about this problem will help them become readier to tap into the next such launch, and perhaps create recurring events to celebrate what gamers – their customers – love. Moreover, the issues of the predetermined locations were specific to Pokemon Go so they will not always be hurdles. In the mobile and social world, its probably good to come up the hard way.

Image courtesy: https://pixabay.com/en/pokemon-pokemon-go-pikachu-pokeball-1555036/

 

Building the Future of the API Economy

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The impact of API economy is across all industries. Because APIs by their very definition are supposed to promote interaction and dialog across multiple companies, often in different industries.

In my article on American Banker Don’t Give Away The Store When Enabling APIs, I brought out the focus on ensuring that banks maintain their customer experience front end, while allowing additional channels for growth. For example, allowing travel sites, Facebook and retailers to access the bank’s services were examples which if taken too far with potential competitors could result in commoditization and loss of value (as the service providers are hidden as utility providers).

APIs are the future in today’s connected world. In this new post on American Banker titled 3 Steps to API Success, I tried to provide a simple framework to guide the development of Bank APIs with those customer experience principles in mind. Essentially, apart from going to market rapidly by opening up new channels, it is important to start building a sticky and value-adding customer experience by focusing on projecting the bank’s brand, not just the utility service itself.

The 3 steps in the framework sort of follow a road-map because they increase in complexity of course. Also read the full article on American Banker.

  1. Fill in the gaps in our customer journeys: Like any business, we often fulfill our end of the bargain, while leaving the remaining customer needs to the other players in the industry.  However, in this rapidly innovating world, the most important use cases for API banking will be driven by 3rd party applications that help customers accomplish the objectives that ultimately matter. Otherwise, this gap will be filled quickly by someone else. For example, banks provide a bank account but the space is rife with innovations around P2P payments and check sharing, spending pattern analysis, savings goals and calculators etc. Examples abound for small businesses, as well as commercial banking. Perhaps the first step could be to address these end to end journeys by enabling a 3rd party ecosystem around APIs developed for these purposes. These applications meets the objectives of low cost services provided to niche customer bases. These innovations often failed the “business case criteria” for in-house development. But they help the bank establish its brand by creating an umbrella ecosystem that is similar to how enterprise technology providers create their partner ecosystem.
  2. Moving towards an App Ecosystem model: The next level of the API model will go beyond exposing APIs to third parties towards building controlled environments where discovery, adoption, experimentation and payments will be seamless. Fidor and Mondo are 2 European banks that have laid the foundation of this model. Powered by 3rd party innovation and supported by customer experience experts from the bank, this app model brings a much tighter integration of the banks offerings and aligns them with the customers. Such a model reduces the go to market friction for partners (e.g. advertising, or fulfillment). It also ensures that the bank can market the entire package of services to customers and create conversations around their end to end needs, instead of negotiating on product features and price.
  3. Becoming a connector of value: The ultimate goal is not just to provide a service, but to anticipate customer needs, and ensure they are receiving the assistance they need as they make financial decisions. Over the years, banking has evolved naturally (like any service) from being a custodian of money, to being an agent that helps (or can help) make the right financial decisions. The API model now provides banks the right tools to make this mission come true. For example, helping the customers maintain the right balances for their upcoming payments, their IRA contributions, or just sticking  to a monthly budget for various categories of spend. As customers utilize the banks services (or the apps), this ecosystem will tend to grow stronger. In summary, for the first time, banks will be able to connect the different use cases and bring singular focus on the overall customer objectives. For example, Citi’s Price Rewind program tries to do this but relies on customer signups instead to gain access to transaction data and customer context. The Bill Payment service comes close but it needs to be integrated with the rest of the bank’s ecosystems.

Connecting individual value propositions by creating overarching customer identities and helping customers with proactive advice is what will differentiate one banking API platform from the other. And for this to take off, banks must take steps to make customers aware of the new capabilities, clarify each value proposition from the customer’s perspective, and on-board customers quickly and comprehensively. Such a model will obviously be based on ensuring privacy through various opt-in mechanisms. In summary, working backward from the customer motivations and experiences in the digital economy is key to innovate and maintain relevance.

Read more on American Banker at 3 Steps to API Success. Your thoughts and suggestions are welcome. Image taken from https://pixabay.com/en/users/geralt-9301/

 

The great promise of social media engagement needs a new approach

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What happened to URLs such as www.facebook.com/yourbrand? Is the great promise of building a community through social media effectively over? Just as brands were starting to figure out how to improve their social investments ROI, and how to attribute success to their social media efforts, prominent networks such as Facebook have pulled the rug out from under our feet  – by killing organic reach. Especially for small and local businesses, this has become a big problem because they can no longer reach – without lot of paid promotions – their fans who specifically liked and engaged with their social presence and beliefs. Look at this blog by Josh Bernoff,  this blog post by Augie Ray, and this Forbes article by Elan Dekel for a great description of this problem.

So, what can we do to make social continue to work for us? Here are some thoughts I’m experimenting with. I have by no means figured this out myself – especially because the investment stakes are much higher now.

#1: First step – Stop listening to advice that “you” are the problem:

This advice generally starts with positioning the issue as how your content is not valuable and engaging enough. That’s not really the problem. Several experts have shown through analysis that brands and businesses with great posts and large followings still aren’t reaching even a fraction of their followers. Because it’s not you, its the business model of our social media platforms. They need to push advertisements and paid services. On the other hand they want to play (wrongly in my view) the role of moderator thinking that they know what’s best for users. Its not personal, its business (and it also goes against the philosophy from which social arose).

Experts have long pointed out how we should not rely on a third party platform for our business. This is an example of that. For the short term, we should definitely continue to share useful and engaging material and offers on social platforms such as Facebook. Because even if the initial reach is tiny, user sharing still has a multiplier effect. It still doesn’t solve the problem for local and small businesses, but that’s the way it is for now.

2: Medium term goals – Treat your social presence as a different kind of outlet

There’s no denying that we need to be where our customers are. For most businesses, especially consumer oriented ones, that’s critical, at least for the purposes of staying top of mind and visible.

From that perspective, think of your social presence as an extension of your integrated branding stream that links what you stand for with what the customers moods and interests are, offering ways for customers to co-create your products or services with you. On Facebook, we can identify our business appropriately with a matching theme such as organic food, environment, peace, fitness, fashion, satire etc.  On LinkedIn it can be about business innovation, functional excellence, leadership or other such professional topics.

Second, being an outlet means that promotions, engaging content like surveys, contests and videos, will continue to be a part of your presence by being an extension of your primary presence outside of the networks. To support these initiatives and drive awareness, paid advertising is unfortunately going to be the norm unless platforms update their algorithms. So while presence is important, investments / spending should NOT be made only from the perspective of raising social (e.g. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or LinkedIn) engagement because such engagement is temporary in the new “pay to play” model. Our social presence should strive for engagement outside of the social media platform.

For example, a small local business may need to “promote” their posts on how they are supporting healthy eating, or local community events. But each of these posts should ultimately get customers to be part of something outside of the social media platform. Signing up for an upcoming local charity event, engaging with local farmers, taking part in a marathon, supporting a green cause, helping with child education, or signing up to get updates from the neighborhood community are all options. The key is to get away from the “gain followers and promote” model. And as theme based selling goes mainstream (e.g. IBM and smarter cities, Nike and fitness,  Coke and community etc.), the social presence will amplify that message.

Third, a major perspective is customer service. Customers are more likely to engage when the friction to engage is low. That means that providing feedback, ideas, and recommendations / reviews are easier when the channel is right there for them.

Finally, for the medium term, doing away with your social presence is not an option for most of us at this time, but we do need to think a little harder about how we engage, and at least drive awareness. This is primarily because higher investments and bandwidth are now needed to just to keep the social channel alive. It may not be feasible for many to stay in the game by sticking to the same old rules of engagement.

#3. Medium to long term plan – Prepare for the social platforms to be disrupted

The connected experience trend is catching up, and niche social networks and communities are also rising. Since the primary networks have converted their model to “pay and play”, it makes sense to start evaluating alternatives. Actually, its even better because some of the alternative networks may be more targeted and relevant. A nice list of some of these emerging communities was shared here on Convert With Content.

Second, as our fitness trackers, home thermostats, refrigerators, cars, and almost everything else starts getting connected, the social networks may just become broadcasting stations. And paid ones at that. That means that your home bases (owned and shared media) must be thought of as even more important. This is because people may not interact directly with traditional providers at all as someone else takes over the medium – e.g. Amazon is experimenting with ordering items through one-touch button in your home, online dinner service providers such as Plated and Magic Kitchen are eliminating the need for you to visit a store, and online food ordering services eliminate the need for customers to call or visit a local restaurant.

So we need to think harder about creating these 1-1 connections with our users to maintain our relevance. Building email lists is one option, as well as finding other ways to gain stickiness such as being an early part of a niche community around topics such as pets, environment, health, fashion, fitness etc. Ultimately, these communities are themselves likely to evolve into large platforms, but when that happens, other more niche platforms will definitely surface. Its human nature to rebel and be different.

All said and done, the onslaught of content (such as this one) is almost becoming too much for customers to handle. Our inboxes are already cluttered, and so are our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds. The only way is to establish relationships with our customers by offering them something special to engage with us on, and to create multiple entry points into their ecosystem – and that will soon be true for both large and small businesses alike.

Read about the 5 principles of competing in a digital economy here. Photo credit: mkhmarketing via Foter.com / CC BY

 

Customer partnership is about going beyond advertising and offers

Recently, a reader of my book asked me about The Principle of External Reinforcement. Her point was that most organizations are now anyway helping people buy what they need. So what exactly is the purpose of this principle?

Customer engagement - External reinforcement

First, if you are already doing that, then its awesome. It doesn’t really invalidate the principle, only helps support it, right?

Second, and more importantly, The Principle of External Reinforcement is about helping customers with their needs from a consultative perspective. Its not only about providing options and offers to buy.

Customers browse the websites of service providers and products to see if a product is a fit for them, and then of course buy from us if all works out. However, too often we get too wrapped up in selling (which is not necessarily a bad thing), versus helping customers do what’s right for them. By failing to partner in their quest, we are unable to secure the all important reference anchor position in our customers minds.

Here are some examples we discussed:

1. The mortgage calculators on lenders’ websites are a way to help customers decide. This is an example of a simple mathematical tool which gives customers quick information and can then lead into more detailed discussions. The further we take this tool, the more sticky our position becomes in the minds of the customer. By outlining best practices, things to avoid, how to refinance etc, we end up creating a situation where perhaps a half a point of rate difference will still win the customer for us. Although we necessarily don’t have to add a premium to the interest rate to justify the approach. The additional references and conversions will more than make up for the minuscule incremental costs of this approach. In addition, adding multi-channel customer engagement to the mix will realize the ROI many times over. Consider how retention rates for add-on services suffer at many financial services companies just because the customer is unaware of the real benefits of the add-on?

2. Another example the reader provided was of travel sites such as Expedia. “Don’t they already provide hotels, cars, flights etc – everything that I need?”, she reasoned. Sure they do, but by the time we get to sites like these, and perform our search, we are looking for “the right price”, not planning how to make the best of our vacation days. We look to external sources to do that. My analogy would be to ask the question: what does it take for a great piece of content like “how to spend 3 days in New York City” to become an actionable customer engagement tool on the website? In short, external reinforcement is about satisfying the questions a customer might have that will cause her to look to additional sources of information. She might still look at many sources, but a source that resonates with her with a customer partnership oriented approach will stick. And most likely, the transaction will be made there because of the obvious benefits such an approach will bring – for example, linking with local tourist guides? In addition, maintaining the context of a customers travels will lead to even better engagement because once a NYC trip is over, our promotional campaigns will send “NYC offers to send to friends”, and “Vegas offers for you” instead of the other way around. It’s an entire marketing and customer engagement overhaul.

3. Consultative sales in the enterprise software market are another great example. As new products are developed everyday in a changing digital world, customers are struggling with what’s the best approach for them when it comes to technology architecture and investments. As customers make these decisions, software product companies are really leaving the decisions in the hands of consultants to help the customers decide. However, once an opportunity is qualified, can the “sales” conversations themselves become consulting calls by partnering to help customers assess their entire business process? Is there the risk of a lost sale if the product does not fit the need? Yes, but its most unlikely that decisions are that cut & dried if you have something worthwhile to sell. In case it doesn’t still work out after all this, is it really to be regretted? On the other hand, creating such a mutually beneficial relationship with the customer will make it tough for them to take an adverse decision. After all, enterprise technology decisions are comfort decisions as well – customers are looking for a quality partner that will help them go the distance when it comes to realizing their ultimate business goals.

So The Principle of External Reinforcement is about understanding the context, and helping the customer make the right decision for herself. It’s not just about putting more marketing offers on the table. Its about creating a fertile ground for customer partnership, resulting in a win-win for all. Increasing loyalty is a function of great customer service, which in turn is a function of how well we understand our customers to help them make the best of their investments in our products.

 

 

 

 

 

How to enhance customer engagement by reinforcing the choices our customers make

We all know that product or service reviews are helpful in positively influencing the propensity of customer to buy.  However, most research in this space has focused on the product and the moment of purchase. Lets evaluate some very important dimensions of customer engagement.

If we put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, we realize that a product feature specific review is only partially helpful towards the goal of true customer engagement. In most cases, customers are looking for “fitment” in addition to quality and price. In addition, customer evaluation of a product does not start when they search for a product. It starts much before that. For example, when customers are first made aware of a need, or when they make a shortlist of product that they think may meet that need. The presence of reviews help all along no doubt, but they the customer is left to decide on their own. We need to initiate customer engagement much earlier in the cycle, and base it on information broader than the product itself. We must look at the customer need and context.

 

Customer engagement - External reinforcement

In The Principle of External Reinforcement, I outlined a framework of customer partnership towards driving customer engagement. In summary, the principle tackles the question: How should we help given a customer’s context? 

As the figure illustrates, a customer journey is only partially met when the customer engagement is centered on our own products and services. Customers expect that we will position ourselves in a positive light. A typical response is to cut through the clutter and go directly to the details of the service or product they are looking for. Once that is accomplished, customers will look for external reinforcement – best practices, what else is available, what they should be looking for before they decide etc. It is here that traditional engagement models fail. By focusing only on ourselves, we fail to become the reference point in the customers’ minds. It is definitely desirable to be validated by external sources, but by not engaging the customer on the additional dimensions, we miss the opportunity to create a benchmark in their minds, and fall short of our customer engagement goals.

As customers, while we all have different ways to research and engage in conversations, satisfying this need for external reinforcement is one of the foundations of how companies need to engage, sell and service in a digital world. The need for external reinforcement must be addressed at all times by engaging in a conversation not only with the customer but also with their network. By conversation I mean providing a contextual environment to better trigger and satisfy explorations by customers, noting their actions, understanding them, interpreting them, and then reacting in an appropriate manner over multiple channels and media by including their social and other networks. The Principle of External Reinforcement is about striving to understand the context of a customer’s needs and buying stimuli, and by constantly acting to ensure our actions are in tune with how the customer’s environment is structured, and changing. This framework then lays a strong foundation for customer engagement.

Our journey as customers has important implications for who will succeed in winning our business, and that of our networks, now and also in the future. In fact, one of the first things we do when we look up a product online is to look at comparative ratings and product reviews by others. If we find helpful reviews, research tools, and satisfactory educational product information on the website we initially visit, and if the purchase timing is right, then we are likely to make a purchase right then, or at least come back to the same website and make our purchase – and perhaps many subsequent ones. Similar criteria exist for B2B sales as well although complexity and length of the sales cycles and mediums of information vary significantly.

However, to be able to drive customers to our product, and to make them come back to us again and again as they decide, they need to be hooked onto the source (or seller) as a “partner.” The seller must become the anchor. Otherwise, as customers, we continue to research and look elsewhere for an anchor – online or physical. It’s a perfectly natural and an expected course of action. How this customer experience, and hence customer engagement, unravels is the key to defining our chances of buying the service or product from a particular source. If the initial engagement lets us go without establishing a connection with us, then it gives up the control, and the need for external reinforcement prominently steps in. That’s the very reason why marketing is different from sales. It must create a strong relationship with the customer in addition to raising awareness, running promotions and offering other incentives. When boundaries between marketing and sales are diffused, we lose control of the customer conversation, as well as effective customer engagement. And we end up fighting a faceless, commoditized battle. Yes, the outcome of marketing may be to set up the sale, but that’s not its purpose. It’s a crucial difference in the digital world.

These validation questions also imply that traditional customer engagement approaches that focus on showcasing the product itself are inadequate. Sure, most sales today are provided through attractive offers and promotions, but it is still a numbers game. Relevancy and effectiveness – and hence total cost of sales – can be vastly improved by carefully addressing the needs for external reinforcement.

  • Help customers make the right decision about their choices
  • Help customers make a conscious choice about us
  • Help customers feel good about their choices
  • Help customers with changes in circumstances

When we base the customer relationship on value as measured by them, the customers are proud of their choice of product and about working with us. This automatically helps retention rates, decreases service costs, as well as increases the total lifetime value of the customer measured by repeat or cross-sell / up sell.

Based on The Principle of External Reinforcement in my book “Dancing The Digital Tune:  The 5 Principles of Competing In a Digital World