Category Archives: Customer Loyalty

Customer Engagement

Good session at MPlanet on customer engagement. Speakers included Tom Hernquist from Hershey, Craig Coffey from Nokia, Michael Fasulo from Sony, George Harrison from Nintendo and Paul Woolmington from Naked Communications.

User-generated content was a big topic of discussion. Nintendo’s Harrison talked about attending a launch event in Los Angeles for the Wii gaming console and ending up on YouTube: “It’s a little disconcerting. You have some sleepless nights when you open [your brand] up to UGC. But you have to accept it.”

Coffey talked about how Nokia tapped into the blogging community for the launch of its N95 handset. The marketing team identified five core bloggers – “super influencers” – and invited them into one of its flagship stores before the launch, giving them access to product information and letting them interact with the hardware. Giving them early access to the product “helped them embrace what we were doing,” Coffey said. The positive comments of those super influencers “had a huge ripple effect” on the rest of the blogosphere, he said. A day after the official product launch, there were more than 1 million queries on Google for “N95.”

Asked later about how to deal with bloggers who hate marketers, Coffey said: “We didn’t disrespect the power that these bloggers have. Don’t patronize, don’t condescend.”

Harrison added: “There will always be a large percentage of bloggers who are purists, but others want access and want to engage about new products.”

Other takeaways:

Woolmington described four major transitions taking place in the marketer-customer relationship:

  1. Interruption to engagement, the latter defined as creating the content, tools and experiences to incent people to seek you out.
  2. Control  to empowerment.
  3. Aggregate to integrate. Using all channels to tell your story, but “not painting everything the same color.”
  4. Isolate to affiliate. Mobile third parties to help engage the customers you’re targeting.

Panelists agreed that the 30-second spot is not dead. Fasulo cited a logical reason: Boomers still watch between 14-16 hours of TV a week. Harrison said Nintendo still spends about 70% of its advertising budget on TV (down from 95% a few years ago). “Software launches are a lot like movie launches – we only have 5-6 weeks to build awareness,” he said. “It’s hard to do that without TV.” The difference now, the executives said, is layering in other components to augment the TV spots.

Programming note: Others blogging from MPlanet include Josh Hallett, Garrett French, and Peter Kim.


3 Things that Make My Hair Hurt

1. Voting snafus. Hanging chads may be giving way to touchscreens, but stories of problems at the polls never change. It astounds me that we can’t figure out a way to resolve the voting-booth chaos that engulfs cities and towns across the country every election day. Maybe TWO YEARS is not enough lead time to troubleshoot new machines and properly train the blue-hairs who volunteer at the voting precincts. What a joke.

2. Corporate websites that don’t provide names for media contacts. I hate calling general “PR hotlines” or sending emails to or, worst of all, filling out generic Web forms (see #3 below) with my interview or information requests. Worse yet: when I get no response to those queries. I picture a roomful of flacks sharing a good laugh as they read emails from desperate journalists. “This loser wants to interview our CMO! Hah!” Call me paranoid. Nature of the business.

3. Web forms that gag on apostrophes. Urband legend has it that a SQL programmer with a bone to pick against the Irish rigged the database language in 1994 to blow up whenever it sees a single quote mark. Whatever the history, filling out text fields in Web forms with a name like “O’Regan” remains a huge error-message-inducing pain in the ass at countless websites. Try it sometime.

The Power – and Peril – of Letting Go

By now you’ve probably read about or heard P&G Chairman AG Lafley’s pronouncement that marketers must “let go” of their brands. At the Association of National Advertisers’ annual confab earlier this month, Lafley stressed that the more marketers try to control their brands, the more out of touch they become with consumers. Richard Pinder, president of Leo Burnett’s Europe/Middle East/Africa business, believes the brand horse has already left the barn. “Ten years ago, marketers were in charge of the brand,” Pinder told me in a recent interview. “Now the consumer is in charge of the brand.”

Nielsen BuzzMetrics’ Pete Blackshaw provides a great followup here, saying companies must go a step further and actually start listening to what their customers are saying. He calls for a third “moment of truth”:

” … that powerful inflection point where the product experience catalyzes an emotion, curiosity, passion, or even anger to talk about the brand. By opening up that pipeline, we not only absorb insight and deeper consumer understanding but also nurture empowerment and advocacy.”

I’ll believe it when I see it. There’s a Snake River Canyon-sized chasm between acknowledging that the consumer is in control and building (and selling) a strategy that embraces the shift. Are chief marketing officers willing to risk telling their CEO, “Hey boss, we’ve lost control of our brand”? Their job tenures are short enough as it is.  

The Last Days of Adelphia

My wife’s Adelphia email account was down for most of yesterday. Around 5 pm, I went to the Adelphia web site to search for any announcements about a problem. Here’s how long the page loads took:

  • home page: 7 minutes
  • Check email (one last try): 404 error message
  • Customer support: 2 minutes
  • Technical support: 4 minutes, resulting in a classic on-screen mashup of “page cannot be displayed” wallpaper encasing the trouble ticket form.

I tried the chat line, and amazingly got a tech online within a minute. Even though I was logged in, I still had to retype my name, address and account number before starting the session. Shawn W was helpful in telling me that they were “experiencing technical difficulties with the Adelphia email system.” I picture Adelphia headquarters resembling Saigon just before the fall.

I won’t miss Adelphia when it’s gone. We’ve had their cable/broadband package for the last 5 years or so, and they’ve consistently provided the Worst Customer Support Ever. Two years ago, it took a month and a half to get a cable replaced outside of our house; when the contractors finally did the job, they cut through the underground electric dog fence (whose path was clearly marked with flags). Our relationship went downhill from there:

  • Me: Your contractors cut through my dog fence.
  • Help desk: Sir, that’s a local office issue, we’ll send them an email and they’ll call you.
  • Two weeks later:
  • Me: Your contractors cut through my dog fence, you said you would notify the local office but I haven’t heard from anybody.
  • Help desk: We’ll send them an email and ask them to call you.
  • Me: Why don’t you give me their number, and I’ll call them myself.
  • Help desk: We can’t do that, sir.
  • Me: The local office doesn’t have a phone?
  • Help desk: All support calls are handled through our national call center.
  • Me: But you said this was a local problem, so I’d like to talk to the local office, and they won’t call me.
  • Help desk: You can go to the office and talk to someone in person if you’d like.

I do worry that Comcast won’t be any better. I pinged them today to find out when the switchover would take place. I got a form letter reply, excerpted here:

I understand you have some general questions about the Time Adelphia/Time Warner migration, and I’ll be happy to provide you with some information. The deal is/was expected to close on July 31, 2006. This deal will allow Comcast to officially acquire customers from both Time Warner and Adelphia areas, as well as trade some of our customers to Time Warner.

In most cases, there will be no immediate impact to Adelphia/Time Warner customers. Comcast wants to provide an easy transition for our new customers. You will retain your Adelphia/Time Warner services while we transition you to Comcast products and services. We will communicate early and often as to when transitions will take place. We anticipate new customers to have most Comcast services by mid-2007.

Lots of problems here. First, the deal was completed in July – they should update their form to reflect that. The “early and often” phrase was boldfaced by me, because I still haven’t heard from Comcast about the transition.* A simple email would have done it, or an insert in the monthly Adelphia bill. Anything that provides a sign that they care a whiff about communicating with their customers. Then I see this article about the problems Comcast is having switching Adelphia accounts over in the Pittsburgh area. I wonder how many defections they’ll have when all is said and done. The devil you know …

*Exciting news! My daily postal influx of bills, Amex promotions, and Victoria’s Secret catalogs today included an update from Comcast. The switchover is scheduled for Nov. 9. It’s Comcastic!

Virgin Gets It

Leave it to Virgin America, the yet-to-hit-the-skies domestic airline, to come up with another innovative way to connect with prospective customers: a “name our planes” contest for its fleet. This week it officially christened its first aircraft “Jefferson Airplane,” a nod to its San Francisco base. Virgin is a brand that clearly understands the need to bond with customers, and those principles have been passed onto the new airline. Virgin America’s VP of Marketing, Spence Kramer, provided some insights on the airline’s approach in an interview with me a year ago for CMO:

“Our aim is to make air travel a little more fun, a little more personal. We hope people can actually love an airline rather than just tolerate it. Like other Virgin brands, we want this to be a fun place to work, a good value for our customers and a bit of a renegade in an otherwise commoditized industry.”

Kramer went on to talk about the importance of making an emotional connection with customers:

“Brands that don’t make emotional connections, especially from the inside—the product side—out, will eventually lose. Emotional marketing doesn’t mean much if the company’s people, products and services don’t back it up. Nike doesn’t succeed because Wieden and Kennedy makes great commercials. Rather, Nike succeeds because its core belief—its brand promise, its love of the potential for the athlete inside everyone—lives inside the people in Beaverton. When that love is manifested in their gear, consumers manifest it in their own lives. It’s not only an emotional connection, it’s an individual one. That’s what we’re hoping for, too: a one-to-one relationship, but with many thousands of people.”

The airline is waiting for final approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FAA to begin carrying customers. Can’t wait to fly it! Sans toothpaste, of course.