The Conversation: Customer Relations Creepiness

Evil monkey from the movie about the evil monkey that smiles awkwardlyForget the creepiness of Google knowing so much about you it can recommend a restaurant based on your eating-out patterns (woe to you and the little gem of a restaurant Google is not going to recommend). The real creepiness (maybe) is when customer relations staff can’t get the essentials of customer relations just right.

In the world of handy big data apps and more, we need to ask ourselves how a business introduces “situational awareness” to the ways it conducts interactions with customers.

When Digital Marketing Gets Too Creepy

photo by: scragz

Email, Relevance and Big Data

Prettied up and ready to packIn fewer than twenty years, doing business online has developed similarly to the rise of a celebrity discovered in the morass of obscurity and thrown into the limelight. Put the trajectory from Cool Site of the Day (founded 1994) to omni-channel marketing in perspective; that’s pretty meteoric growth in the big scheme of things. The upside is a meteoric rise to fame. The downside is a meteoric rise to fame.

Using the internet as a venue for conducting transactions, many businesses and consumers alike have gone from guarded skeptics to full-blown enthusiasts. But in the middle of the enthusiasm lives an oft-overlooked truth: people are humans. They have preferred ways of interacting with the world, and they have individual needs. For marketers, this is the fly in the ointment.

Back in the old days when many online businesses were trying to find solid ground, email marketing was the rage and high-performing lists were the grail. In short order, ‘personalization,’ with the goal of creating emails that made customers think the company looked upon them as individuals, became the imperative. Still, content was targeted to a segmented though nevertheless large audience, not to one person.

That level of customer attention offered a significant conversion boost over direct-marketing-esque emails. But it hasn’t had the staying power companies hoped for. A recent survey shows respondents favor ‘older-fashioned’ ways of interacting with a company, at least when it comes to learning of new products. Even conventional print catalogues out-perform current darlings like social media, sometimes by two hundred percent.

Intro to Product
But anymore, customers aren’t terribly interested in personalized email. They want customized email: recommendations for products they might like; content that is specific to them. And when they are on the company’s website, customers want tailored content. (Sounds as though they want the Amazon experience in all their online encounters with businesses.)

What is the common denominator in these desires? Customers want relevance. This should really come as no surprise. Customers have always wanted relevant experiences when they make purchasing decisions off- or online. Who among us isn’t a customer? Who wants to give over precious time to stuff that doesn’t matter in the least to us? If we are in control of what we do with that time, we’ll head for the relevant experiences every time.

Conversion rate marketing should be about giving customers what they want so businesses can get what they want. Conversion rate marketing has always been about providing relevance to customers. So, if conversion rates are greatly improved when communications are customized, then customization needs to be a marketing priority.

Send one customer an email that no other customer receives and do this for all your customers? Big data technologies make it possible to do exactly this, even when your customer base is large. But few companies today have the ability to use data at that scale when creating relevant experiences for individuals requires a lot of data, a lot of processing and a level of technology many companies do not have and cannot afford. In reporting results from the above-mentioned survey, Ayaz Nanji writes,

  • Almost half of marketing executives surveyed (45%) indicated that they lack the capacity for analyzing “Big Data.”
  • 50% of marketing executives said they have inadequate budgets for digital marketing/database management.
  • Only 24% of marketers always use data for actionable insight. This limited competency in data analysis is viewed by 45% of executives as a major obstacle to implementing more effective strategies.
  • Only 27% of the marketing executives surveyed said they always integrate customer data from different sources into a centralized customer database.

These are not cheery statistics.

The downside to any online business’s continued (or improved) success finds its expression in an inability, sometimes an unwillingness, to participate in the trajectory of technological developments. Budget constraints cannot be minimized, neither can colleague and leadership resistance. However, no company can afford to overlook one of life’s basic tenets: people want to be treated as individuals not as masses. Delivering what individuals really need is critical. Providing relevance has never been negotiable, and, increasingly, big data technologies allow businesses to take advantage of and relate all the data they collect to offer relevance to each customer.

Today, the money is in the data. It’s time to regroup, even if it takes small, incremental steps such as starting to customize emails. Time to remember what’s important and offer it at whatever scale you can accommodate. Time to consider whether outside providers can do for you what you cannot (currently) do for yourself.

Time to meet the challenges inherent in an industry’s meteoric rise to fame.

photo by: lisaclarke

10 Qualities a Data-Friendly Business Culture Needs

[ New Perspective ] Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Shinjuku, Tokyo, JapanUsing and continuously optimizing data with the long-term goal of providing customer value and increasing conversion sounds easy; it can be difficult to execute. Getting the most from your data requires hard work and a willingness to adapt, to experiment, to learn from mistakes, to correct those mistakes as quickly as possible and to keep doing the process over and over without end. But, no matter the scale, crunching data to generate information and insight is valuable only if the organizational structures are in place to support the effort.

One of the most important problems corporations face is creating, at all levels of leadership a framework of support for and participation in new technologies that can help refine and expand how they do business. As pressure to adopt big data technologies grows stronger, many organizations have understandable fears concerning the integrity of their businesses. At the very least, leadership often perceives these technologies as threats to institutional knowledge and continuity.

Alex Miller of QVC, Anthony Bucci of RevZilla and Slava Sambu of Office Max have offered insight into the benefits of staying current with data processing technologies. They have discussed some of the stumbling blocks they have faced. But, as these three suggest, stumbling blocks are not dead ends. Organizations able to confront problems toward finding solutions soon begin to reap the rewards associated with using data effectively.

One of the goals—and it will become increasingly important—is corporate agility. With the ability to analyze and operate in real-time, a business can be far more responsive to its customers. It can quickly evaluate what is or is not working and correct the problem. It can identify problems and fix them immediately. For example, some data a business collects is going to be “dirty.” This is, and has always been, a common problem. Implementation of information derived from problematic data can potentially create a large problem with a large impact on the bottom line. A company needs to be agile enough to catch these problems, evaluate their nature and devise appropriate solutions as quickly as possible. As in right then; better still, an hour ago. Waiting while information makes its way slowly up the chain as each management level makes a decision—even waiting as long as it takes to organize a meeting of department heads—is not an option anymore.

Businesses are accomplishing this every day, and some have been employing these practices for years, decades. Amazon operates like this. Online newspapers operate like this. Alex Miller’s discussion of the need for immediacy in real-time data management of live broadcasting is particularly relevant. Real-time responsiveness is possible and advantageous with a sympathetic business culture.

What makes for a corporate culture that can successfully welcome and accommodate the emerging landscape of using data?

  1. An ability to understand a data-driven focus can out-perform many, if not all, previous business solutions
  2. An open-mindedness that supports the research, development and experimentation necessary to make best use of big data
  3. A perspective that supports the idea operating in real-time is an excellent way not only to enhance the customer experience but also monitor for problems and quickly correct them. However difficult it can be to negotiate at all levels, business agility is critical
  4. A marketing optimization framework that allows marketers to use the data effectively to make marketing decisions in real-time. Companies with higher conversion rates almost always have better marketing efficiency ratios (net contribution/marketing expenses). These companies understand it’s hard work to accomplish better marketing efficiency ratios, but it’s considerably more lucrative to do so.
  5. Higher standards of accountability throughout the organization, up to and including the CEO. Does the CEO know which factors of the customer experience impact sales, which projects or departments to favor, what truly needs to be done to optimize the marketing efficiency ratio? In a data-driven business climate, the CEO must know these things
  6. Leadership that promotes higher levels of communication, even collaboration, across all teams
  7. A willingness to grant certain decision making powers to smaller teams
  8. A commitment to employing conversion rate marketing principles
  9. An emphasis on making sure data as well as information and insight derived through analytics are flowing to individual teams across the organization so each can make clear decisions and execute in real- or near-real-time
  10. People and processes that foster a culture of risk-taking and ongoing testing

It took very little time to list (or read) these qualities. It will probably take much more time to internalize them so they become ingrained business practice. If you hope to stay competitive, however, just don’t let it take too long.