{{ searchResult.published_at | date:'d MMMM yyyy' }}

Loading ...
Loading ...

Enter a search term such as “mobile analytics” or browse our content using the filters above.

No_results

That’s not only a poor Scrabble score but we also couldn’t find any results matching “”.
Check your spelling or try broadening your search.

Logo_distressed

Sorry about this, there is a problem with our search at the moment.
Please try again later.

Call it delight, caring, innovation or service, some companies set themselves apart by earning the durable preference of their customers.

If your view is that "life is too short for standard results" then here is what I've learned from business leaders who know how to earn the involvement and loyalty of great customers.

These loved firms grow faster, maintain stronger margins, and navigate downturns better than those firms with customer relationships based on toleration and transaction. And, it turns out, there are patterns to how companies become loved.

After a year of meeting with breakthrough businesses that have made their names on fantastic customer relationships, my team brought together the very best of these in Portland, Oregon and Boston to talk about how they do business. Here are the themes that will stay with me after these great conversations.

Who owns the customer experience?

Brands like Nordstroms, Gemvara, Life is Good, Zipcar, Warby Parker, Boloco and Mt. Hood Meadows answer this question differently.

The titles of our customer experience leaders ranged from CEO and CMO, to VP of Customer Experience, and the Chief Customer Officer. One of our speakers ended their marketing department entirely, giving responsibility to every department to create the plan of how they will market their organization through radical service.

1. Delight isn’t a tagline – it’s the bottom line

Why is gaining and maintaining customer loyalty and preference a big deal? It’s the last persistent advantage in an otherwise quick-to-commoditize world.

That’s how Ron Rogowski of Forrester Research described the shift of companies from differentiating on their products (when products and features were scarce), to distribution (when transportation and media access were constrained).

Once product development became rapid and distribution was global, power shifted to customers. Being armed with the ability to gather information independently (and use digital media to spread their views) allows them to dictate the terms of engagement with brands. In a fluid marketplace, the favor is what separates winners and losers.

2. Delight isn’t an ideal – it’s a pragmatic everyday activity, and its built on failure

For companies that delight, error isn’t the enemy, irrelevance is.  John Pepper, CEO of Boloco, summed it up:

When you provide the variety of products we do to 80,000 guests a day, mistakes will happen. So, we’ve decided to become great at recovering from mistakes, and turning them in to wins.

Brian Kalma of Gemvara wrapped a success metric around the same idea:

If we help someone fix a problem, they’re four times more likely to repurchase from us than if we had just delivered what they wanted with no further follow-up.

Perfection is built on fixing things in a way that shows care. It’s a moment of truth that can elevate brands.

At the end of the day, a customer complaint shows that someone cares about what a business has promised. They’re engaged, and there’s an opportunity to win.  Jill Nelson from Ruby Receptionists addressed the threat in the alternative: those unimpressed and unengaged. “Fine is a four letter word” – it’s just too low a standard.

Dave Tragethon from Mt. Hood Meadows and Leslie Mottla from Zipcar both stressed the marketing need to set customer expectations to frame success. If there’s little snow, if the parking lots will be packed, if using a shared car means taking care of it for others, etc. – setting  expectations up front lets people know what they’ve signed-up for. We often lack certainty in business, but that shouldn’t impede forthrightness.

3. Get clear about the value of your brand to customers

In one of the Boston sessions before our meeting in Boston, Stacy Howe from New Balance suggested that before you can do great marketing, you need to decide who you’ll be to customers.

The simple formula, “Differentiation + Design = Delight” sets out a journey of aligning identity, creating experiences that express a brands minimum viable personality, and it creates the opportunity to operationally deliver delight.

In Portland, we dug in to about a dozen brief framing statements, that well-known firms use to explain what benefit or value they share with their clients. These become a point of connection that explains why firms belong in their customers’ lives.

We started to break these down in to five general styles:  Happiness, Connection, Discovery, Pride, and Social Good. Each of which starts to rough out the terrain of delight.

4. Rethink the role of customers for your company

Pepper described their VIBE (very important burrito eater) program, which recognized that they have around 2,500 high frequency customers who, if treated well, can spread the word about Boloco better than any advertising.

Tragethon described the same dynamic with one of Mt. Hood Meadows' season pass offerings. By creating an affordable and highly social season pass, they’re sold in bundles of four. Selling these at a great discount created thousands of new skiers with a season-long commitment to their destination, which they could connect with through specialized offers and services.

David Oksman, the Head of Marketing for Life is good, talked about how they find disruptively good ideas by seeking customer input. Listening to customer feedback about music in the stores opened up a new opportunity for engagement. They now spend 300,000 minutes a month listening online.

5. Rethink content: Less story telling – More story living

When Pepper and Tragethon gave status to thousands of their best customers, those customers reciprocated by elevating their businesses. They received more active feedback, increased word of mouth, more frequent visits – and facilitated a peer relationship between its best clients and their brand.

In Portland I shared the story of Dove’s “Ad Makeover” on Facebook. They allowed women to spend Dove’s advertising budget to block out other firm’s ads that denigrate women’s self-image. Their clients wrote the ads, targets offensive ads to replace, and Dove did this on Facebook for other women, reporting back to each fan what the result of her suggestion was.

Increasingly content is eclipsed by experiences. A great tool, perhaps a mobile application, often can make more impact in someone’s life than written “content”. And when writing must be done, having it done by customers can often result in points of view that are more credible and useful that what brands would write themselves.

6. Technology is nothing without humanity

Perhaps the biggest object lesson of these discussions is that sincerity breeds delight. Sure, technology, content, and design may be how that sincerity gets manifested. But the experiences that companies create for clients convey more that any words we can craft.

Tragethon drove this home with his mantra “technology is nothing without humanity”, but so did our Portland host Steve Gadlin. His appearance on Shark Tank pitching “I Want to Draw a Cat for You” is another case where, like in the Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain is more real and powerful than the construction in front of it.

It’s comparatively easy to buy technology, but improvement from it is rare unless culture changes along with it. And when culture and technology are both in motion, it opens the door to new business models and the disproportionate gains they bring.

7. The age of miracles is not past

Earning the loyalty of customers is as old as service. But as Alisha Runckel tweeted on the idea of using an axe as a tool of unabashed change, “What day isn’t take your axe to work day?” she asked. But when your standard is delight, there’s an imperative to innovate and “wield the axe”, so to speak, for unabashed change.

As Brian Kalma noted in both our Boston and Portland events, “if you use a standard approach, you’ll get standard results.” Life’s too short for standard results.

---
Is there a firm or organization you love doing business with? Is there a product that you find has unreasonable personality, which you enjoy far beyond its actual utility? Please let me know in a comment below.

Dave Wieneke

Published 9 November, 2012 by Dave Wieneke

Dave Wieneke leads Digital Strategy at ISITE Design, and is a graduate lecturer on Digital Marketing at Northeastern University. He writes on the future of digital marketing at UsefulArts.us and he can be reached through Twitter and LinkedIn

 

23 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

Avatar-blank-50x50

Marc LeVine

Our organization focuses on the midmarket here in the US and in other parts of the world. In Germany, midmarket companies are called the Mittelstand. Many mittelstand companies tend to dominate many industries on a worldwide basis with worldwide market shares as high as 70-80 percent. The ones that are successful prefer customer intimacy over marketing THREE TO ONE!! They tend to be very close to their largest and most demanding customers, locating near them or in their premises and following them to new markets. The long history of many of these companies translates into extensive experience and knowledge of their customers. These close relationships allow the Mittelstand companies to know their customer’s needs and priorities well. In these situations, the vendor is right there when the problem is analyzed and co-creates potential solutions. It is difficult for a competitor to displace such companies that are ‘customer entrenched’. It is certain that a competitor who simply ‘markets’ will not succeed in such a situation. I know there are many American companies that place a similarly high value on customer intimacy.

about 4 years ago

Dave Wieneke

Dave Wieneke, Director of Digital Strategy Practice at Connective DX

Thanks, Marc, learning lessons of the "Mittelstand" is a great idea -- at its my favorite word of the week. It sounds like these firms are great about identifying the role they will play in their client's business or lives and building hard to replace relationships.

I also find that midmarket companies have complexity and scale, but a determination to make shifts to stay close to clients....those who have become huge find it hard to create a unified lead process -- let along intimacy.

I'll take a look at the Midmarket Institute site - do you have any favorite examples you can link us to?

about 4 years ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Daily Pulse newsletter. Each weekday, you ll receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.