Can Customers Turn The Tables Via Videotape?

Seth Godin has a great post today, musing that accountability and instances of “correct behavior” would go up if service providers (and politicians) knew they were on tape.

Excerpt:

I’ve been counting more and more mail from enraged customers (thanks, but I have enough!). These are people who feel outrage when they are deliberately mistreated by someone who should know better…I wonder what happens once it’s on tape?

All as a way of asking you to bring your videocamera with you when you go to vote on Tuesday (regardless of which side you’re on). The biggest impact of the Net on this election, it seems to me, is that so many things are “on tape.” So many people are now embedded in the process that the process has changed forever.

Another good example of this trend.

(Hat tip: Jeff Jarvis)

The Social Customer Manifesto

If Cluetrain was the shot heard round the world, then this is certainly its echo.

It is clear that customers across all industries are getting really tired of being spun, misled, and lied to. Individuals like Jon Stewart are taking very public approaches to complaining about horrible service when they see it. Eliot Spitzer appears to be single-handedly taking down the insurance industry for shafting its customers (and it looks like he has his eye on the music industry next).

Customers simply aren’t taking it anymore. And if an organization is not opening up to them, and not interacting with them, and not meeting their needs, those customers are going to make sure the organization knows about it. Maybe not today, but soon…and that’s if the organization is lucky. More likely, those same customers will just go away and never come back.

On this front, there are a few trends that we’ve identified from the customer’s point of view. They are listed below. And this is known to be an incomplete list.

We need to build it out together with stories, comments, criticisms, debate and insights. There are no spectators anymore.

Participate.


THE SOCIAL CUSTOMER MANIFESTO

  • I want to have a say.

  • I don’t want to do business with idiots.

  • I want to know when something is wrong, and what you’re going to do to fix it.

  • I want to help shape things that I’ll find useful.

  • I want to connect with others who are working on similar problems.

  • I don’t want to be called by another salesperson. Ever. (Unless they have something useful. Then I want it yesterday.)

  • I want to buy things on my schedule, not yours. I don’t care if it’s the end of your quarter.

  • I want to know your selling process.

  • I want to tell you when you’re screwing up. Conversely, I’m happy to tell you the things that you are doing well. I may even tell you what your competitors are doing.

  • I want to do business with companies that act in a transparent and ethical manner.

  • I want to know what’s next. We’re in partnership…where should we go?

Interview: How The T-ShirtKing Embraces The Social Customer

Continuing the conversation we started a few posts back, the full set of comments from Bill Broadbent, President of T-ShirtKing, on how his company is interacting with the social customer. Thanks again, Bill!


Christopher Carfi, Cerado: Why did T-ShirtKing decide to embrace blogs?

Bill Broadbent, T-ShirtKing: Two or three years ago our newsletter was a major marketing tool going out to over 400,000 opt-in subscribers. Since then the numbers have significantly dropped and the profitability of running a weekly newsletter dwindled. We all know why that is.

Blogs were a new way to reach our customers. It didn’t replace the newsletter but it is a strong complement.

CC: Is there an example (or two) of an instance where T-ShirtKing feels it has gotten closer to its customers as a result of the blog initiative?

BB: Many customers liked the simple fact that we began the blog to reduce spam. A lot of people opted out of our newsletter, which was a bit unnerving, but they have become faithful blog fans.

CC: What have been the challenges / downsides to TShirtKing as a result of blogging?

BB: Once it’s set up, not many. It’s easy and fun.

CC: Are there any other things that you would suggest to other organizations that are considering blogging as a part of their business?

BB: It has huge potential and many applications that are just beginning to be implemented. A great example is companies that use blogs to keep customers up to date on new products or services. The blog becomes much more than a company billboard, it opens up discussions and allows for critics and suggestions. I have no doubt in my mind that ten to twenty years from now most companies will be using blogs as a standard business tool.

Jon Stewart: The Customer Who’s Not Gonna Take It Anymore

Jon Stewart is my hero this week.

If you haven’t yet seen video of Stewart’s from-the-heart-rant on CrossFire, it’s worth the time.

Great discussions initiated by Dave Winer and Chris Pirillo on this. Continuing the discussion here.

Winer:

Wasn’t he a customer saying he wasn’t satisfied with the service?

Should journalists listen to their customers? (I don’t mean advertisers, I mean the people who read, listen to, or watch their reports.)

Should they try to give them what they want?

If not, why not?

Would journalism get better?

Some journalists say they give the customers what they want, but I wonder about that.

If they were, wouldn’t they have to listen to customers?

As a customer myself, I heartily say YES to this.

The downside is…the theatre seems to be what many customers want. Is it the escapism that is the draw for the watered-down current state of journalistic affairs? The consistency? The lack of conflict?

As a part of what I hope is a sizable demographic, I’m going to line up with Stewart. Journalists, stop the charade. Stop worrying about “losing access” by asking the tough questions.

Start doing your job.

Make Way For The Social Customer

A new article up on CRMGuru: Blogs: Make Way for the Social Customer

Excerpt:

Bill Broadbent, a 20-year industry veteran, entrepreneur and successful CEO has a weekly electronic newsletter that boasts 400,000 opt-in members. And someday soon, he may stop publishing it.

Companies like Broadbent’s–not high-tech companies, mind you, but companies that sell things like T-shirts, kitchen gadgets and yogurt–are moving away from “traditional” media and marketing channels and using online weblogs or “blogs” in order to connect with their customers in unprecedented ways.

What’s going on here?

Welcome to the free-wheeling world of online communities, where the lines between companies and customers are blurred and feedback from the market can be instantaneous, unfiltered and–sometimes–sharp-edged.

What follows is an overview of how blogs, which, like other emerging social technologies such as enterprise social networking systems and wikis, are being used today to interact with customers in completely new ways.

read more…

Interview: How One Manufacturer Uses Blogs To Interact With The Social Customer

I was fortunate to trade emails last week with a number of individuals who understand what it means to engage with the social customer. Whether through blogs, social networking systems, or wikis, these companies understand what it means to give customers real transparency into the organization, and to interact with them not as “assets,” not as something with a “lifetime value,” but as people. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll have the opportunity to share the results of these interviews, as well as some more thoughts and context on this trend.

What follows are comments made by Scott Benish, Brand Manager for Clip-n-Seal. Thanks for your time, Scott!

These guys get it.


Christopher Carfi, Cerado: Why did Clip-n-Seal decide to embrace blogs?

Scott Benish, Clip-n-Seal: For us, it was a no-brainer. We’re bloggers by nature, and we were blogging even before Clip-n-Seal. So when we brought Clip-n-Seal to market it just make sense to blog about it and tell our friends (many of whom have their own blogs) about it.

At the same time, being involved with blogs, we realized the power and potential of tapping in to blogs as a way of spreading the word about our product. So we embraced blogs because we were bloggers, but we also knew it made good business sense to embrace this community and utilize this burgeoning communication channel.

CC: Is there an example (or two) of an instance where Clip-n-Seal feels it has gotten closer to its customers as a result of the blog initiative?

SB: There are probably more than that. Our entire marketing so far has been based on blogs and we’ve had tremendous success in that space.

Last April we emailed an Industrial Design blog about our product because we thought they might find it interesting. They wrote a post about us and within a week 3 other relatively large and prominent blogs had posted about us or linked to us. There was a huge spike in site visits and orders.

Of course it’s not necessarily that easy. We had a product that was of interest to these audiences and we approached them in a low key, honest way. So it fit really well. It’s not as simple as just emailing a bunch of blogs and sitting back and waiting for the traffic. Blogging is a very personal medium and it requires a personal approach. People coming from mass media who want to hop on the blog train will almost certainly fail to see this and fall flat on their faces.

Another specific example is a blog contest we did:
http://www.blogstakes.com/news/22265311/
http://www.blogstakes.com/blogstakes.asp

In addition to all the brand building and orders that came from that, one of the winners wrote us a glowing letter telling us about how much she loved the product, loved the prize we sent and was planning on telling all her friends about it. Those kinds of fans that champion the product to their friends are worth their weight in gold.

CC: What have been the challenges / downsides to Clip-n-Seal as a result of blogging?

SB: None that I can think of. Not for us anyway.

I guess one challenge is keeping in front of people. You have some blogs post about you, and you get a bunch of traffic, but then 6 months later most people have sort of forgot about you. So how do you get back on the radar, catch some new blog readers, remind people you exist, etc. It’s the same thing as any sort of marketing, but it’s a bit harder. With traditional advertising, you just run more ads. With blogs, you can’t email your friend and say “Hey, orders are down, post about my product again”. Well, I guess you could, but that’d be lame. So you just need to keep things fresh, introduce new promos, products or contests. Which is not a bad thing at all, just a challenge.

CC: Are there any other things that you would suggest to other organizations that are considering blogging as a part of their business?

SB:Well, there are a lot of things. More than can be reasonably covered here. Like most things, it’s way more complex than it seems from the outside.

The biggest thing is probably that it’s unlike any other medium and you really have to know your audience and tread lightly. It’s a fickle, critical audience and if you are clearly there just to make a quick buck or shill some lame product people will see that and they will tell the world. If you make a lame TV ad, no one hears the groans – but if you make a misstep in the blogosphere you’ll get called on it and could end up doing more harm than good.

Tell Your Stories On Social Networks, Wikis, And Other Social Software

I’m currently working on a story about social software for Bob Thompson’s CRMGuru online community (http://www.crmguru.com , over 200,000 members). I’m looking for good stories/responses to the following questions from folks who are willing to share them. If you have a story to tell* about your company, feel free to drop me an email.

1: Which companies are using social software (esp. social networking, wikis, and the like) in order to better connect with customers? There are quite a few stories regarding blogs and individuals using social networks successfully…how about organizations?
2: Is there an example (or two) of an instance where you have seen a company get closer to its customers as a result of these capabilities?

3: What have been the challenges / downsides for organizations that are attempting it?
4: Are there any things that organizations should consider if they are considering including social software (esp. social networking) as a part of their connection to customers?

So…any good stories out there?

* – PLEASE NOTE: Comments/emails may be quoted in the story. Please feel free to include your name, title, and company.

RSS: The Most Effective Way to Connect 1:1 With Customers?

Over the past couple of months, a handful of companies have announced their intentions to use RSS (what is RSS?) technology to more effectively communicate with their customers. 

For example, one such company, Coravue, has announced that their new offering "delivers tailored marketing messages to the desktop."  A much-hyped concept for sure, and a goldmine if it works.  But can RSS help bridge the gap to customers more effectively than existing methods such as email and newsletters, not to mention good old-fashioned direct marketing?

In some cases, the answer is yes.  One particular application that springs to mind is the natural synergy between the timely dissemination of information that RSS enables and the emergence of the on-demand software deployment model.  In the on-demand world, some solution providers choose the model of incremental, ongoing implementation of new functionality in their on-demand systems.  This is great for customers, as new features are being implemented all the time.  But how does a company let all the users of the system know about these new features as they become available?  A vendor-specific RSS feed would allow a solution provider to instantly communicate new features, functionality, and links to documentation to all users as soon as the code is migrated to production.  Massive, timely, laser-focused publishing at zero cost is a good thing.  But couldn’t we do the same thing with email?

Well, sure.  But, in addition to being perfectly targeted, RSS feeds do not have an issue with spam.  Since an RSS feed is, by definition, "opt-in" and the publisher controls the channel of communication, spam is non-existent.  Although there are some companies looking to inject ads into RSS feeds, I have a feeling we’re still a year or two away from widespread implementation of this practice.   

Despite some technical challenges with RSS (e.g. the potential for PointCast-like bandwidth abuse), the most notable challenge right now is visibility of the technology to the end-user. Because of that, I think the solution providers (and information providers, particularly in the form of blogs) are going to be pushing a string for a while.  While the publishing tools make it trivial to publish RSS feeds (see that little "Syndicate this site" link over there?), it is still a bit of an effort to receive RSS feeds.  One needs to get an RSS reader* and configure it.  Until the RSS readers are ubiquitous and the killer app from the customer side is found, the uptake will continue to be mostly limited to early adopters.

Some interesting possibilies here.  Any stories of folks using RSS feeds to connect with customers in this way?

* — SharpReader has a decent RSS reader, and I love the RSS support that is built into Thunderbird, which I encourage everyone to download immediately…as well as Firefox.

You Don’t Know Jack (Wilson, in Accounting)

Over the past few years, we’ve done hundreds of interviews with both customers and sales teams to help companies find out why they are really winning or losing business. In one of our earliest projects, we asked our client to give us a list of customers to contact, including names, phone numbers, titles, and the like. Two days into the project, we realized there was a serious, serious problem.

When we started dialing the phone, we found out that none of the customers actually existed.

Well, that’s not strictly true. The companies existed, but a seeming majority of the contacts either had left the company, had incorrect or missing phone numbers, or had changed extensions. How could this be? The information had been pulled out of our client’s contact management system, for their existing customers. “It should be right…right?” asked our client.

An interesting bit today in SearchCRM entitled “Five Dirty Little Secrets of CRM” bears this out. In the article, Laura Preslan, a research director with AMR Research, states that one organization she is aware of used a social network discovery tool to “spider” their network for email and other personal contact lists. When completed, an analysis was performed that showed that only six percent of the contacts that were in the company’s social network showed up in their CRM / sales force automation tool.

Prediction: The “use social networking to clean up your CRM system” mantra will become a part of the marketing spiel of social network discovery vendors, augmenting or perhaps replacing the “use your social network to get better contacts and close deals faster” spiel.