Category Archives: marketing

Balancing Artificial Intelligence with the Human Touch

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

As AI and ChatGPT-type technologies grow in capability and ease of use and become more cost-effective, more and more companies are making their way to the digital experience. Still, the best companies know better than to switch to 100% digital.

I had a chance to interview Nicole Kyle, managing director and co-founder of CMP Research (Customer Management Practice), for Amazing Business Radio. Kyle’s team provides research and advisory services for the contact center industry and conducts some of the most critical research on the topic of self-service and digital customer service. I first met Kyle at CCW, the largest contact center conference in the industry. I’ve summarized seven of her key observations below, followed by my commentary:

  1. The Amazon Effect has trained customers to expect a level of service that’s not always in line with what companies and brands can provide. This is exactly what’s happening with customer expectations. They no longer compare you just to your direct competitors but to the best experience they’ve had from any company. Amazon and other rockstar brands focused on CX (customer experience) have set the bar higher for all companies in all industries.
  2. People’s acceptance and eventual normalization of digital experiences accelerated during the pandemic, and they have become a way of life for many customers. The pandemic forced customers to accept self-service. For example, many customers never went online to buy groceries, vehicles or other items that were traditionally shopped for in person. Once customers got used to it, as the pandemic became history, many never returned to the “old way” of doing business. At a minimum, many customers expect a choice between the two.
  3. Customers have new priorities and are placing a premium on their time. Seventy-two percent of customers say they want to spend less time interacting with customer service. They want to be self-sufficient in managing typical customer service issues. In other words, they want self-service options that will get them answers to their questions efficiently and in a timely manner. Our CX research differs and is less than half of that 72% number. When I asked Kyle about the discrepancy, she responded, “Customers who have a poor self-service experience are less likely to return to self-service. While there is an increase in preference, you’re not seeing the adoption because some companies aren’t offering the type of self-service experience the customer wants.”
  4. The digital dexterity of society is improving! That phrase is a great way to describe self-service adoption, specifically how customers view chatbots or other ChatGPT-type technologies. Kyle explained, “Digital experiences became normalized during the pandemic, and digital tools, such as generative AI, are now starting to help people in their daily lives, making them more digitally capable.” That translates into customers’ higher acceptance and desire for digital support and CX.
  5. Many customers can tell the difference between talking to an AI chatbot and a live chat with a human agent due to their ability to access technology and the quality of the chatbot. However, customers are still willing to use the tools if the results are good. When it comes to AI interacting with customers via text or voice, don’t get hung up on how lifelike (or not) the experience is as long as it gets your customers what they want quickly and efficiently.
  6. The No. 1 driver of satisfaction (according to 78% of customers surveyed) in a self-service experience is personalization. Personalization is more important than ever in customer service and CX. So, how do you personalize digital support? The “machine” must not only be capable of delivering the correct answers and solutions, but it must also recognize the existing customer, remember issues the customer had in the past, make suggestions that are specific to the customer and provide other customized, personalized approaches to the experience.
  7. With increased investments in self-service and generative AI, 60% of executives say they will reduce the number of frontline customer-facing jobs. But, the good news is that jobs will be created for employees to monitor performance, track data and more. I’m holding firm in my predictions over the past two years that while there may be some job disruption, the frontline customer support agent job will not be eliminated. To Kyle’s point, there will be job opportunities related to the contact center, even if they are not on the front line.

Self-service and automation are a balancing act. The companies that have gone “all in” and eliminated human-to-human customer support have had pushback from customers. Companies that have not adopted newer technologies are frustrating many customers who want and expect self-service solutions. While it may differ from one company to the next, the balance is critical, but smart leaders will find the balance and continue to adapt to the ever-changing expectations of their customers.

Image Credits: Unsplash
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

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Why Greedflation Must End and How Consumers Can Make It So

Why Greedflation Must End and How Consumers Can Make It So

GUEST POST from Art Inteligencia

Greedflation — an insidious blend of greed and inflation — has silently been eroding the purchasing power of consumers, escalating economic inequalities, and tarnishing the trust we place in markets and institutions. This practice, where companies exploit inflationary trends to excessively hike prices, detaches from economic principles and delves into unethical opportunism. While inflation in itself, when moderate, plays a functional role in the economy, greedflation skews the balance, enriching the few at the expense of many. Here’s why this must end and how consumers can play a pivotal role in its demise.

Why Greedflation Must End

  1. Economic Inequity: Greedflation exacerbates economic disparities, widening the gap between the rich and the poor. While executives and shareholders prosper, average citizens struggle more to afford basic commodities. This vicious cycle traps lower-income families in a relentless financial squeeze, robbing them of opportunities for upward mobility.
  2. Erosion of Trust: Trust is the bedrock of a functional economy. When consumers perceive that companies are exploiting inflationary pressures to rake in excess profits, trust in those companies and the broader market erodes. This lack of trust can lead to decreased consumer spending, hampering economic growth and stability.
  3. Reduced Consumer Purchasing Power: As prices soar disproportionately, the real purchasing power of consumers dwindles. Households find themselves paying more for the same goods and services, which can lead to indebtedness and reduced quality of life. This reduction in purchasing power compounds the already significant challenges faced by middle and lower-income families.
  4. Market Distortion: Greedflation distorts market dynamics by creating artificial price structures that don’t accurately reflect demand and supply. This conflation of legitimate inflationary factors with opportunistic price hikes undermines true market efficiency and the ability to allocate resources effectively.
  5. Social Unrest: When people feel unfairly squeezed by relentless price hikes, social tension can build. Such unrest not only affects social harmony but can also lead to broader economic and political consequences. It’s a recipe for instability that we can ill afford in a complex global environment.

Identifying specific companies definitively engaging in “greedflation” can be complex, as it often involves nuanced economic analyses and data that may not always be readily available or clear-cut. However, certain sectors and companies have faced accusations and scrutiny over seemingly disproportionate price hikes, especially during periods of broader economic instability. Here are five examples based on public scrutiny and anecdotal evidence:

  1. Amazon: During the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon faced criticism for significant price increases on essential items such as hand sanitizers, masks, and other health-related products. While some of these price hikes were attributed to third-party sellers on the platform, the company was scrutinized for not doing enough to regulate prices during a global crisis.
  2. Pharmaceutical Companies (e.g., Martin Shkreli’s Turing Pharmaceuticals): One of the most notorious cases of alleged greedflation in the pharmaceutical industry involved Turing Pharmaceuticals, where the price of Daraprim, a life-saving medication, was increased by over 5,000% overnight under the leadership of Martin Shkreli. This incident highlighted how companies could exploit patent protections and market monopolies to drastically inflate prices unethically.
  3. Oil Companies (e.g., ExxonMobil, Chevron): Oil giants like ExxonMobil and Chevron have been accused of leveraging geopolitical tensions and supply chain disruptions to raise gas prices disproportionately, thereby generating record profits during periods when consumers are already struggling with inflationary pressures.
  4. Grocery Retailers (e.g., Kroger, Albertsons): Major grocery chains like Kroger and Albertsons have faced allegations of increasing food prices beyond what could be justified by supply chain issues and general inflation. With essential goods being a critical part of everyday life, such actions appear particularly exploitative.
  5. Telecom Companies (e.g., Comcast, AT&T): Telecom giants such as Comcast and AT&T have been criticized for raising prices on internet and cable services, despite relatively stable or reduced operational costs due to advancements in technology. Consumers often feel trapped because of limited competition in many areas.

While these examples showcase sectors and companies that have faced scrutiny, it’s important to note that conclusive evidence of greedflation can be difficult to establish due to the complexity of market forces and individual company strategies. This underscores the need for informed consumer activism to hold companies accountable.

How Consumers Can Help End Greedflation

  1. Shop Smarter: Consumers wield significant power through their purchasing decisions. By being more discerning and opting for alternatives when prices seem unjustifiably high, we can signal to corporations that unethical pricing won’t be rewarded. Supporting smaller, local businesses and cooperatives can also help counterbalance big players who may indulge in greedflation.
  2. Promote Transparency: Demand greater transparency from companies about their pricing strategies. When transparency becomes a social norm, it’s harder for businesses to hide behind inflated prices. Use social media and other platforms to press for clarity and accountability.
  3. Support Policies for Market Oversight: Advocate for stronger regulatory frameworks and more stringent oversight bodies that can analyze and address unethical pricing practices. By supporting politicians and policies that prioritize consumer protection and market fairness, individuals can influence systemic change.
  4. Educate and Mobilize: Consumer education is crucial. Share knowledge and resources about how to spot and combat greedflation. Community groups, educational institutions, and social networks can serve as platforms for educating others about prudent consumer practices.
  5. Leverage Collective Bargaining Power: Form or join consumer advocacy groups that can collectively negotiate for fair prices and better market practices. Unified consumer voices can be a powerful force for change, pushing corporations to rethink their pricing strategies.

Conclusion

The end of greedflation is not just an economic imperative but a moral one. It’s about creating a fairer society where prosperity is shared more equitably, trust is maintained, and economic stability is preserved. Consumers hold immense power as the primary drivers of market forces. By making informed, conscious choices and demanding greater accountability, we can collectively put an end to greedflation and forge a more just economic future.

As an independent thinker and human-centered innovation and transformation thought leader, I firmly believe in the power of consumers to act as agents of change. Together, let’s take that necessary step to ensure markets function with integrity, fairness, and a sense of shared prosperity.

#EndGreedflation #ConsumerPower #EconomicJustice

Image credit: Unsplash

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Six Steps to Creating a Brand Experience Personality

Six Steps to Creating a Brand Experience Personality

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Two weeks ago, I contributed an article that compared the different concert experiences I had with two rock legends, Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr. The title of the article summed up the point I was trying to make: Transactions versus Experiences

I want to take it a step further this week. Last week’s content was meant to get you thinking. Now, I want you to take action on the content. So, here are six ways to create an experience personality that will transform your company or brand from merely providing products and services to doing so with personality:

  1. Your Company’s Personality: I don’t care what you sell. It could be military equipment or comic books. Every company has a personality, and these personalities run the gamut from serious to whimsical. What are the adjectives that customers use to describe you? How would you like them to describe you? These are two great questions to ask as you start to explore your company’s personality.
  2. Communicate Your Company’s Personality: Once you know it, don’t keep it a secret. When you know the perception you want customers to have of your organization, empower your employees to deliver on the personality.
  3. Top-Down Personality: If you want employees on the front line to deliver on the company’s personality, it must be modeled from the top down. In other words, leaders must practice the behaviors they want their employees to practice. The personality comes from the top and makes its way through the entire organization, eventually being felt by the customers.

Shep Hyken Brand Experience Personality Cartoon

  1. Manage Every Moment: I have always been a huge fan of Jan Carlson’s Moments of Truth concept, in which every interaction a customer has with a company is an opportunity for them to form an impression. These interactions include advertising, websites, people-to-people, and more. Find ways to instill the personality into all of these interactions.
  2. Get Feedback: There is only one way to know for sure that you’re delivering on your company’s personality experience. Ask your customers.
  3. Be Consistent: The only way for your experience personality to become a reality is for the experience to be consistent and predictable. It can’t be an engaging experience this time and something other than engaging next time. When customers like the experience personality, they will want to experience more of it! Consistency counts!

As you adopt these strategies, your customers will become familiar and comfortable with the experience personality you portray. Take the time to work through these steps, get everyone on board and in alignment with the personality you want to be known for, and create the experience that gets customers to say, “I’ll be back!”

Image Credits: Pixabay, Shep Hyken

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How to Create a Good Loyalty Program

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

What is a loyalty program? It’s a program designed to get customers to come back. That’s different than true customer loyalty, but it’s a pretty darn good start. In our 2024 State of Customer Service and CX research (sponsored by RingCentral), we included a section of questions that focused on customer loyalty and rewards programs. Before we get into the findings, let’s look at three examples of some of the best.

1. Amazon Prime: When I Googled the question, “Is Amazon Prime a membership program or a loyalty program?” the first answer came from an NBC News article that included this description: “Amazon Prime is Amazon’s paid loyalty program. …” First, Amazon offers tremendous value for its program, including free shipping, Prime TV and more, which by itself is worth paying for. However, there is also the psychology that if you pay for something, you want to get value from it, so use it. Therefore, many Amazon customers choose Amazon over competitors because they pay for the loyalty program and want to get the most value from it. Of course, Amazon is known for its stellar customer experience, so that combined with the Prime program gives it a competitive advantage over other online retailers.

2. Restoration Hardware: When you pay $200/year for its RH Members Program, you get 25% off all full-priced merchandise and 20% additional savings on sales items. In addition, you get complimentary access to its designers. The RH program is more of a discount program than a true loyalty program, but it does what it’s supposed to do, which is to get customers to come back. Like Amazon, I Googled the RH Members Program to see what others said, and many referred to it as a “Premium Loyalty Program.” And with that premium price, an RH customer expects a premium customer experience, and Restoration Hardware delivers.

3. American Airlines: American Airlines consistently ranks high among frequent flier programs, and The Points Guy rates AA as the best for earning status without ever flying. Using the AA credit card (most airlines have affiliations with credit card companies), you can rack up miles for free trips and status. An Omnisend.com article on loyalty programs included AA as the only airline in its list of 10 Businesses with the Best Loyalty Programs. I’ve been in the AA program since the 1980s and have amassed miles, perks and status. Reaching any level of status on the airline gives you more than perks. Employees recognize when passengers are members of their program and, quite simply put, “They treat you right.”

These are examples of paid and/or free loyalty programs and membership programs. There could be a book written to describe the many versions of loyalty programs. Most are marketing programs, focused on repeat business. There are points, discounts, perks, and now, experiences. Zsuzsa Kecsmar, co-founder of Antavo, a customizable loyalty platform and publisher of the Global Customer Loyalty Report, adds, “Loyalty programs used to be earn-and-burn. You spend a dollar and earn a point. But today’s loyalty programs can do much more with experiential rewards, early access and rewarding other activities outside of purchasing.”

As mentioned, are many versions of loyalty programs. A restaurant may offer a punch card where every fifth sandwich is free. Customers may be willing to pay to be part of a “loyalty program” to get perks and discounts. With all that in mind, here are some interesting findings from our research to help you decide if the effort to create a loyalty program is worth it:

  • 61% of customers said rewards programs were important to giving a company or brand repeat business.
  • 46% are willing to pay more for a company or brand that has a good loyalty or rewards program.
  • 76% are more likely to return to a company that has a good customer rewards program.
  • 57% would choose to switch to a brand that has a loyalty program if another brand did not.
  • 55% have recommended a brand or company to others because of its loyalty program.
  • 39% have made an unplanned purchase just to earn more points or rewards.

If a loyalty program is part of your business model (or if you’re considering it), these findings make the point. The numbers make a compelling argument for developing a loyalty program. The last finding is especially intriguing. Almost four in 10 customers made a purchase just to earn more points or rewards.

Realize that a loyalty program is more often a marketing program. Some consumers become loyal to the program more than to the company or brand. True loyalty is about a customer being emotionally connected to a company, not just to the perks and points in a loyalty program. If you combine an amazing customer experience with a loyalty program, you have a winning combination.

Image Credits: Unsplash

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

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Growth Comes From What You Don’t Have

Growth Comes From What You Don't Have

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

If you have more features, I will beat you with fewer.

If you have a broad product line, I will beat you with my singular product.

If your solution is big, mine will beat you with small.

If you sell across the globe, I will sell only in the most important market and beat you.

If you sell to many customers, I will provide a better service to your best customer and beat you.

If your new projects must generate $10 million per year, I will beat you with $1 million projects.

If you are slow, I will beat you with fast.

If you use short term thinking, I will beat you with long term thinking.

If you think in the long term, I will think in the short term and beat you.

If you sell a standardized product, I will beat you with customization.

If you are successful, I will beat you with my hunger.

If you try to do less, I will beat you with far less.

If you do what you did last time, I will beat you with novelty.

If you want to be big, I will be a small company and beat you.

I will beat you with what you don’t have.

Then, I will obsolete my best work with what I don’t have.

Your success creates inertia. Your competitors know what you’re good at and know you’ll do everything you can to maintain your trajectory. No changes, just more of what worked. And they will use your inertia. They will start small and sell to the lowest end of the market. Then they’ll grow that segment and go up-scale. You will think they are silly and dismiss them. And then they will take your best customers and beat you.

If you want to know how your competitors will beat you, think of your strength as a weakness. Here’s a thought experiment to explain. If your success is based on fast, turn speed into weakness and constrain out the speed. Declare that your new product must be slow. Then, create a growth plan based on slow. That growth plan is how your competitors will beat you.

Your growth won’t come from what you have, it will come from what you don’t have.

It’s time to create your anti-product.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Are Your Customer Surveys Costing You Business?

Are Your Customer Surveys Costing You Business?

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Why does a company send out a customer satisfaction survey? Generally, it is to find out if they did a good job or what they can do to make the experience better.

In the weekly Super Amazing Show I do with Brittany Hodak, we talked about surveys. The general consensus was that shorter was better. After the show, we heard from John Hughes, who is connected with me on LinkedIn. Here is a shortened version of his comment:

“Saying, ‘Short surveys are better,’ is a bit like saying tall people are better at basketball. Yes, it helps, but you still have to be talented and have that extra ‘something’ to be a professional basketball player. … Rather than focusing on short surveys, I would say companies should truly investigate the principles by which customers choose them and then try to match the survey to the customers’ willingness to help. Ironically, customers at top service companies (think Ritz-Carlton, USAA, Chewy, Amazon, and Navy Federal Credit Union) are actually more willing to take longer surveys because they appreciate the relationship. An unwillingness to take a survey can be the most direct measure they do not value the relationship.”

First, I love John’s comment, especially the analogy to professional basketball. I won’t argue that some brands have customers who are more willing to take the longer surveys; however, Brittany and I were talking in general terms. And in general, short surveys get higher response rates. I shared with John that depending on how many surveys are sent out – as in a large number – the company can keep the surveys short and ask different questions, which should give them similar feedback as if they sent out fewer longer surveys.

Shep Hyken Customer Survey Cartoon

Here are some findings from our 2024 Customer Service and CX research (sponsored by RingCentral) that back up my comments:

  1. In 2024, 67% of customers said they don’t complete surveys if they are too long.
  2. Furthermore, almost one in five (19%) of customers stopped doing business with a company or brand because its satisfaction surveys were too long.
  3. And 23% of customers stopped doing business with a company because it kept sending too many surveys.

It’s not all gloom and doom for surveys. There are plenty of people who are happy to complete surveys, and we’ll share some of those findings later this year.

Back to John’s comment about customers at top service companies who will take the time to answer longer surveys. There are some rock star brands that are so good that customers are compelled to share their experience in a survey, be it long or short. But for most of us mere mortals, we should pay attention to what most customers are telling us about customer satisfaction surveys.

Image Credits: Unsplash

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Trust as a Competitive Advantage

Trust as a Competitive Advantage

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

One of the most rewarding things about writing my book Mapping Innovation was talking to the innovators themselves. All of them were prominent (one recently won the Nobel Prize), but I found them to be the among the kindest and most generous people you can imagine, nothing like the difficult and mercurial stereotype.

At first, this may seem counterintuitive, because any significant innovation takes ambition, drive and persistence. Yet a study at the design firm IDEO sheds some light. It found that great innovators are essentially knowledge brokers who place themselves at the center of information networks. To do that, you need to build trust.

A report from Accenture Strategy analyzing over 7,000 firms found this effect to be even more widespread than I had thought. When evaluating competitive agility, it found trust “disproportionately impacts revenue and EBITDA.” The truth is that to compete effectively you need to build deep bonds of trust throughout a complex ecosystem of stakeholders.

From Value Chain To Value Ecosystem

In Michael Porter’s landmark book, Competitive Advantage, the Harvard professor argued that the key to long-term success was to dominate the value chain by maximizing bargaining power among suppliers, customers, new market entrants and substitute goods. The goal was to create a sustainable competitive advantage your rivals couldn’t hope to match.

Many of the great enterprises of the 20th century were built along those lines. Firms like General Motors under Alfred Sloan, IBM under Thomas J. Watson (and later, his son Thomas Watson Jr.) as well as others so thoroughly dominated the value chains in their respective industries that they were able to maintain leading positions in their industries for decades.

Clearly, much has changed since Porter wrote his book nearly 40 years ago. Today, we live in a networked world and competitive advantage is no longer the sum of all efficiencies, but the sum of all connections. Strategy, therefore, must be focused on widening and deepening links to resources outside the firm.

So you can see why trust has taken on greater importance. Today, firms like General Motors and IBM need to manage a complex ecosystem of partners, suppliers, investors and customer relationships and these depend on trust. If one link is broken anywhere in the ecosystem, the others will weaken too and business will suffer.

The Cost Of A Trust Event

The study was not originally designed to measure the effect of trust specifically, but overall competitive agility. It looked at revenue growth and profitability over time and then incorporated metrics measuring Sustainability and Trust to get a larger picture of a firm’s ability to compete.

The Accenture Strategy analysis is wide ranging, incorporating over 4 million data points. It also included Arabesque’s S-Ray data from over 50,000 sources to come up with a quantitative score and rate companies on their sustainability practices, as well as a proprietary measurement of trust across customers, employees, investors, suppliers, analysts, and the media.

Yet when the analysts began to examine the data, they found that the trust metrics disproportionately affected the overall score. For example, a consumer focused company that had a sustainability-oriented publicity event backfire lost an estimated $400 million in future revenues. Another company that was named in a money laundering scandal lost $1 billion.

All too often, acting expediently is seen as being pragmatic, because cutting corners can save you money up front. Yet what the report makes clear is that companies today need to start taking trust more seriously. In today’s voraciously competitive environment, taking a major hit of any kind can hamstring operations for years and sometimes permanently.

Where Trust Hits The Hardest

When the issues of trust come up, we immediately think about consumers. With social media increasing the velocity of information, even a seemingly minor incident can go viral, causing widespread outrage. That kind of thing can send customers flocking to competitors.

Yet as I dug into the report’s data more deeply, I found that the effect varied widely by industry. For example, in manufacturing, media and insurance, the cost of a trust incident was fairly low, but in industries such as banking, retail and industrial services, the impact could be five to ten times higher.

What seems to make the difference is that industries that are most sensitive to a trust event have more complex ecosystems. For example, a retail operation needs to maintain strong relationships with hundreds and sometimes thousands of suppliers. Banking, on the other hand, is highly sensitive to the cost of capital. A drop in trust can send costs surging.

Further, in industries like high tech and industrial services, companies need to stay on the cutting edge to compete. That requires highly collaborative partnerships with other companies to share knowledge and expertise. Once trust is lost, it’s devilishly hard to earn back and competitors gain an edge.

Building Resiliency

The trust problem is amazingly widespread. Accenture found that 54% of firms in the study experienced some kind of trust event and these can come from anywhere: a careless employee, a data breach, a defective product, etc. Yet Jessica Long, one of the Accenture Strategy Managing Directors who led the study, told me that a company can improve its resiliency significantly.

“It’s not so much a matter of preventing a trust event,” she says. “The world is a messy place and things happen. The real difference is how you respond and the resiliency you’ve built up through forging strong foundations in the crucial components of competitive agility: growth, profitability, sustainability and trust.”

Think about Steve Jobs and Apple, which encountered a number of trust events during his tenure. However, because he so clearly demonstrated his commitment to “insanely great” products, customers, employees and partners were more forgiving than they would be with another company. Or, more recently, the scandal when two men were arrested at a Starbucks store. Because Howard Schultz has built a reputation for fairness and because he acted decisively, the impact was far less than it could have been.

Perhaps most crucial is to build a culture of empathy. One of the things that most surprised me about the innovators I researched for my book is that many seemed almost as interested in me and my project as I was in them. I could see how others would want to work with them and share information and insights. It was that kind of access that led them to solve problems no one else could.

What the Accenture report shows is that the same thing is true for profit seeking companies. The best strategy to build trust is to actually be trustworthy. Think about how your actions affect customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders and treat their success as you would your own.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on Inc.com
— Image credits: Pixabay

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Cover versions, Sequels, Taylor Swift and Innovation

Taylor Swift and Innovation

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

An inherent contradiction in almost any new innovation is that it needs to be both new, but also somewhat familiar.  If it doesn’t offer anything new, there is little motivation for consumers to risk abandoning existing habits or preferences to try it.  But if it is not at least anchored in familiarity, then we ask consumers to put a lot of effort into understanding it, in addition to any opportunity cost from what they give up for trying something new.  Innovation is difficult, and a lot of innovations fail, at least in part because of this fundamental contradiction. 

Transformative Performance:  Of course, innovations can be successful, which means we do navigate this challenge.  But how? One way is to deliver something with such transformative benefits that people are willing to push themselves over the hump of learning something new. Huge benefits also create their own ‘gravity’, often spreading via world of mouth via media, social media, and even old-fashioned human-to-human conversations. This avoids the need for brute force mass marketing spend that can create the illusion of familiarity, but with a hefty price tag that is typically beyond smaller companies

Familiarity: The second option is to leverage what people already know in such a way that the ‘adoption hump’ becomes relatively insignificant, because new users intuitively know what the innovation is and how to use it.

Wow!  The best innovations do both.  CHATgpt Generative AI is a contemporary example, where transformative performance has created an enormous amount of word of mouth, but the interface is so intuitive there is little barrier to adoption, at least superficially. 

Of course, using it skillfully is another thing altogether, but I think there is an insight there too.  It’s OK to have an ongoing learning curve after initial adoption, but initial engagement needs to be relatively simple.  The gaming industry are masters of this.    

Little Wows!  CHATgpt is brilliant innovation.  But realistically, few of us are gong to create something quite that extraordinary.  So how do we manage to create more modest wows that still drive trial, engagement and ultimately repeat business?

Science, Art and Analogy:  As a believer that a lot of interesting things happen at the interface between science and art, and that analogy is a great tool, I think we cam learn a little about solving this by taking insight from the arts.  In this case, music and movies. For example, popular music routinely plunders the familiar, and repackages it as new via cover versions.  I often do the same myself!   Movies do something similar, either with the cycle of remakes of classic movies, or with sequels that often closely follow the narrative structure of the original.  

But this highlights some of the challenges in solving this dichotomy.  It’s rare for a remake, cover version, or sequel to do better than the original.  But a few do, so what is their secret?  What works, and what doesn’t? 

  1. Distance from the original.  Some of the best movie remakes completely reframe the original in ways that maintain a largely implicit familiarity, but do so without inviting direct comparisons of alignable differences to the original. For example, West Side Story is a brilliant retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Bridget Jones Diary reframes Pride and Prejudice, She’s All That is a retelling of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, while The Lion King retools Hamlet, etc.  I’m not suggesting that nobody sees these connections, but many don’t, and even if they do, the context is sufficiently different to avoid constant comparisons throughout the experience.  And of course, in most of these cases, the originals are not contemporary, so there is temporal as well as conceptual distance between original and remake.   Similarly with cover versions, Hendrix and the Byrds both completely and very successfully reframed Dylan (All Along the Watchtower and Mr. Tambourine Man).  Sinead O’Connor achieved similar success with Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”.  For those of you with less grey in their hairl, last summers cover of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ by Luke Combs shows that covers can still do this. 

2.  Something New.   A different way to fail is to tap familiarity, but without adding anything sufficiently new or interesting.  All too often covers, sequels and remakes are simply weaker copies of the original.  I’m sure that anyone reading this can come up with their own examples of a disappointing remake or sequel.   Footloose, Annie, Psycho, Tom Cruise’s the Mummy or Karate Kid are all candidates for me.  As for sequels, again, I’m sure you can all name a respectable list of your own wasted 2 hours, with Highlander 2 and Jaws the Revenge being my personal cures for insomnia.   And even if we include novelty, it cannot be too predictable either.  It needs to at least be a little surprising.   For example, the gender reversal of the remake of Overboard has a point of difference in comparison to the Goldie Hawn original, but its not exactly staggeringly novel or surprising.  It’s a lot like a joke, if you can see it coming, it’s not going too create a wow.    

3.  Don’t Get De-Selected.  Learning from the two previous approaches can help us to create sufficient separation from past experience to engage and hopefully delight potential consumers.  But it’s important to not get carried away, and become un-tethered from familiarity.  For example, I personally enjoy a lot of jazz, but despite their often extraordinary skill, jazz musicians don’t fill many arenas.  That’s in part because jazz asks the listener to invest a lot of cognitive bandwidth and time to develop an ‘ear’, or musical expertise in order to appreciate it. It often moves a long way from the familiar original, and adds lot of new into the equation.  As a result, it is a somewhat niche musical form.  Pop music generally doesn’t require the same skill or engagement, and successful artists like Taylor Swift understand that.   And when it comes to innovation, most of us want to be mainstream, not niche. This is compounded because consumers today face a bewildering array of options, and a huge amount of information.  One way our brains have evolved to deal with complexity is to quickly ignore or ‘de-select’ things that don’t appear relevant to our goals. A lot of the time, we do this unconsciously.  Faced with more information than we can process, we quickly narrow our choices down to a consideration set that is ‘right-sized’ for us to make a decision.   From an innovation perspective, if our innovations are too ‘jazzy’, they risk being de-selected by a majority on consumers before they can be fully appreciated, or even consciously noticed.     

There’s no precise right or wrong strategy in this context. It’s possible to deliver successful innovations by tapping and balancing these approaches in many different ways.   But there are certainly good and bad executions, and I personally find it helpful to use these kinds of analogy when evaluating an innovation.   Are we too jazzy? Do we have separation from incumbents that is meaningful for consumers, and not just ourselves? And the latter is a real challenge for experts. When we are deeply engaged in a category, it’s all too easy to get lost in the magic of our own creations.  We see differences more clearly than consumers. It’s easy for us to become overly excited by relatively small changes that excite us, but that lack sufficient newness and separation from existing products for consumers who are nowhere near as engaged in our category as we are.  But it’s also easy to create ‘jazz’ for similar reasons, by forgetting that real world consumers are typically far less interested in our products than we are, and so miss the brilliance of our ‘performance’, or perhaps don’t ‘get it’ at all. 

For me, it is useful to simply ask myself whether I’m a Godfather II or a Highlander II, a Taylor Swift or a Dupree Bolton, or even Larry Coryell.  And there’s the rub.  As a musician, I’d rather be Larry, but as a record company exec, I’d far rather have Taylor Swift on my label. 

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

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10 CX and Customer Service Predictions for 2024 (Part 2)

10 CX and Customer Service Predictions for 2024 (Part 2)

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

As promised, I’m back with the second part of my top predictions and trends for 2024 in the world of customer service and customer experience (CX). You can read the first five here. So, let’s get started with number six.

6. Social Cause Increases Customer Satisfaction — Earlier this year, my customer experience research found that 43% of consumers believe it’s important that a company supports a social cause that’s important to them. Only 24% said it wasn’t important. Furthermore, those who claim it’s important are the younger customers: Gen-Z and Millennials. Companies are recognizing this, and you’re seeing more advertisements about how brands are focused on important causes like climate change, diversity, poverty and more. Sustainability is one of the top social causes. The Human8 annual Global What Matters Report found that 78% of U.S. respondents believe brands bear a significant responsibility for the planet’s future. Consumers are factoring in a company’s cause and impact on the community—and the world—as they choose where to do business. Forty-one percent will even pay more if the company has a cause that’s important to them. In short, a social cause is now part of the customer experience!

7. Fewer Chances To Get It Right — In our customer service and CX research, we asked, “How many chances would you give a company you were loyal to before switching?” In 2021, the typical American consumer gave a company 3.4 chances if it made mistakes. In 2022, that number decreased to 3.3, and in 2023, it dropped to 3.1. I predict customers will only be loyal to the companies and brands that are loyal to them, which means delivering a service experience they can count on. And I have to emphasize the word loyal in this prediction. That number is even lower for customers without loyalty or love for the company. When it comes to customer service, the bar is higher than ever. Looking back at the first prediction (from last week’s article), our customers are smarter and compare their experiences to the best they’ve had from any brand, not just your competitors. So, get it right the first time. You won’t have many chances, if any, to win back a customer if you don’t meet their expectations.

8. Customers Want It Now — Customers will appear to be less patient than in the past because of what some refer to as the Amazonation of the consumer. Amazon has set the bar high for fast delivery, and now customers get frustrated when another company can’t meet their delivery expectations. But it is more than just delivery. It’s about time. My friend and customer experience expert Jay Baer did a consumer patience study and wrote a book about it, The Time to Win. He discovered that 64% of people say speed is as important as price. Speed, as in delivery and response times, is an essential part of customer experience, and it will only increase as the companies and brands that get it right put pressure on all the others.

9. Convenience Rules — Before the pandemic, convenience was a “nice-to-have” offering. During the pandemic, customers needed convenience, primarily in the form of delivery. And it’s no surprise that it was so well received that delivery became the norm. Convenience in all forms, not just delivery, is appreciated by the customer, and the demand has increased in all areas of business (B2C and B2B). Just as many people will pay more for speed (see No. 8), they will also pay more for convenience—even more than for a good customer experience. (Imagine if you combined service, speed and convenience!) More companies are recognizing what their customers want and adopting a convenience strategy, making it easier to do business with them. This trend will accelerate as convenience—just like a good customer experience—is demanded by the customer and becomes the expectation.

10. AI Will Not Eliminate Jobs — Yes, some jobs may be eliminated and changed, but for the near future, as in 2024, there will be minor disruption. I spend much time studying the contact center/customer support department. This is one place that AI could be used to eliminate jobs, as ChatGPT and other technologies create human-like experiences. Just six months ago, I wrote a Forbes article about my collaboration with Capterra on their 2023 CX Investments Survey to learn how customer service and CX leaders were investing in technology. We specifically asked about AI’s impact on increasing or decreasing CX staff. It was good to learn that only 9% are reducing staff because of AI, while 63% are increasing staff. Fears of layoffs will continue, thanks to hyperbole and overreactions to new AI capabilities, but for the most part, those fears are unfounded. There will be some layoffs, but there will also be opportunities for employees to learn new skills and find new places to work as a result of AI.

So, there you have it, my top predictions and trends for 2024. I’m always optimistic as I look to the future. That doesn’t mean I’ll put my “head in the sand” and ignore negative trends. When appropriate, I’ll share those as well. For now, let’s embrace the opportunities that are in front of us. May 2024 be your best year yet — and each year thereafter be even better than the last!

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

Image Credits: Shep Hyken

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Is it Free or Unlimited?

Is it Free or Unlimited?

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

My friend Norman Beck sends me interesting articles and newsworthy information regularly. This one is worth talking about here. A grocery store chain had a sign in front of its entrance that read:

Free Delivery – $99 a Year!

I had to smile – even laugh out loud – thinking of how many people would roll their eyes when they read that sign. It’s not free if you have to pay $99 for it! But some brilliant marketers must think the public won’t know the difference. Perhaps a better sign would have read:

Unlimited Delivery – $99 a year!

I’ve shared similar information about this in the past. How often are we told a company offers free delivery, free returns, free refills on soda … you get the idea. It’s not really free. It’s in the price you pay.

I’m okay with that, and it’s actually a pretty good marketing strategy that works. As an example, if I order a soda at a restaurant, I like the idea of refills. But are they free refills? Or are they unlimited refills? Either way, I’m happy. It’s just that one is a more accurate description of the value provided.

So, consider this simple concept. For any business to make money, it has to charge for whatever it sells. By giving too much away, it would lose money. But if the company leaders know how much they can give away without losing money and incorporate it into a competitive price, they may have a value proposition that gets and keeps customers.

Southwest Airlines is the perfect example of this. It markets the heck out of Two Bags Fly Free®. Southwest knows that when other airlines charge for something that they don’t, it can be perceived as free. By keeping operating expenses low, they can charge a competitive price for an airline ticket that doesn’t require the customer to pay extra for checked baggage.

After reading this, some of you may think I’m against free. On the contrary, I’m a huge fan of free. Even if I have to pay for it, if the perceived value is that it’s free, that works for me. I just think that we should be careful about putting a sign in front of a store that basically says you have to pay $99 for “free” delivery.

And, while I’m talking about free, there is one other form of free that I love, and that’s hassle-free, something I know your customers will love too.

Image Credits: Shep Hyken

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