Love Ya! Please Hold.

My phone just rang:

"Please hold for an important product or warranty announcement about a product you purchased from Sears."

Click. Click. (PAUSSSE) Click. Click.

"Please continue to hold for a customer service representative. Your call is important to us."

Click. Click. (Repeat)

SLAM! That was me hanging up the phone. If I am important, and this is important, why is Sears having Robotica, Queen of IVR call me to place me on hold?

Now don't get me wrong, I actually like Sears. I am quite familiar with their integrated marketing and eCommerce framework, and it's largely GOOD STUFF. I like to buy appliances from Sears. A lot! I dig Extreme Home Makeover and Ty Pennington and Bob Vila. But they really dropped the ball with on this one. Beyond having an actual person call me -- what about something like this:

Hello. This is Sears calling about the [oven] you purchased last [month]. If this is a good time for you to speak a representative for [5] minutes, please press 1 and we'll connect you. If we called at an inconvenient time for you, please press 2 to reschedule.


"Okay. We're connecting you to a live Sears representative right now! It should take about (insert time) minute(s) to transfer your call. During this time you may hear a click or experience a short pause."

IF I PRESSED 2 on the initial message.

We're sorry we caught you at a bad time. To schedule a call at a more convenient time, please press 1. To obtain a number where you may call us back, please press 2. If you'd like more information about the nature of this call, please press 3..."

Pressing option 3 would yield a quick explaination highlighting that the warranty was expiring on my oven. It would explain that the average cost to repair an oven and encourage me to learn more about a cost-effective extended warranty from Sears. In exchange for my time, they might offer me a 10% off coupon good for my next purchase at Sears, in addition to giving me a reconnect or reschedule option.

It's clear that Sears wrote the crappy script for one reason: because it works for SEARS - not for the CUSTOMER. However, it probably would have cost LITTLE to make some miniscule changes to the IVR scripting - and a few slight adjustments would probably have yielded a different attitude from me - and a different outcome from the call.

It just goes to show how the seemingly little stuff really counts - expecially when it comes to customer experience!

UK Ad Watchdogs Sniff Glue

I read this article in Media Buyer/Planner today and had a good laugh. The Brits talk about the "uptight and puritanical" Americans, but this is absolutely ridiculous!

UK Watchdogs: 'Hunks' Must Be Hefty or Bald

The Committee of Advertising Practice has advised UK drinks companies to use "unattractive - overweight, middle-aged, balding," men in their advertising campaigns, the Times Online reports. New rules forbid any link between women's drinking and sex, and watchdogs have issued a list of undesirable male characteristics advertisers must abide by.

Popular sparkling drink Lambrini is the first to suffer from the new rules....Lambrini's makers claim that the ruling is offensive to a large portion of the male population, asking if balding, aging stars such as Jack Nicholson, Bruce Willis, and Sean Connery are unattractive to women. "Is the watchdog group qualified to decide for the nation who is sexy and who is not?" executives from Lambrini asked...
read more here.

Seth Godin reminds us that good marketers are story tellers. The UK law doesn't seem to create any kind of barrier for ads that feature "unattractive" or "undesirable" men that (while drinking Budweiser) become suddenly attractive and desirable to sexy, attractive women. We've never seen that theme before, right?

So, Who pays these "watchdogs" and what are they sniffing?

Image courtesy of the Colchester Harrier's Athletic Club Web Site in the UK.

Live with It

Yesterday, I made my way through Dulles Airport for the fifteen-billionth time.

You may recognize Dulles for it's magnificent Frank Lloyd Wright curved facade -- or for the "Star Wars" looking people movers that shuttle individuals between the airport's terminals.

Dulles airport has been undergoing significant renovation that seems to be taking a decade. As a result, the customer experience at Dulles Airport stinks!

Ridiculously bad security line queing seems to be a primary welcome point for the customer. This was recently transitioned from white-shirted TSA employees to yellow-shirted Airport Authority staff, who evidently specialize in bottlenecking, gum-chewing, dull-eyed glances and confusion.

For travelers headed to the recently renovated B-gates, Dulles offers a NEW 1/4 mile (plus) underground walkway, featuring regularly broken people movers and frozen escalators. There is one people-mover for transportation to terminal B every 15-20 minutes. It's across the hall, down two levels, around in a back corner -- there are no posted signs for this shuttle! Otherwise, there is no public transportation between security (and within) the B Terminal for the physically challenged, exhausted or those traveling with children.

Don't get me started on baggage delays.

No wonder my grandma won't visit me anymore!

Unfortunately, unless I select an alternate airport or mode of transportation, I do have to live with it...

Fortunately, I can live with it! I'm blessed with a reasonable amount of patience, and arms of steel that can tug luggage on marathon journeys. I’ve got good cardiovascular endurance, and the ability to strut on high heels for amazingly long distances.

It occurs to me, that many people can't live with it. I'm guessing, however, that because the cumulative impact cannot be readily measured, this probably makes no difference to the Airport Authority or the airlines.

We can't always measure the cost of forcing people to live with bad customer experience, but this shouldn't interfere with fixing glaringly obvious problems. Beyond ethics, it's stupid to beat up your customers!

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way with companies that have a monopoly on service ... and I guess we'll have to live with that.

Integrated Experience?

I know many disappointed executives who mistakenly assumed that integrating the marketing department would revolutionize marketing and dramatically improve customer acquisition and relationship management.

More than a few of these executives (especially the ones on the hook for the technology ROI) are now fighting to keep their jobs.

Were they wrong about their investment in CRM tools? No, but that may not help much.

These executives are now steeped in the knowledge that truly integrated marketing can only be driven out of a truly integrated organization. Creating such an organization spans beyond the marketer's area of influence and control and stands in the way of improved experience and customer-centricity.

An integrated organization recognizes that Marketing may own the packaging, positioning and promotion of the brand, but the delivery of the customer experience is owned, controlled and managed by many contributors across departments. These include marketers, product managers, customer service representatives, service agencies, analysts, sales people, store managers, agencies, channel resources, IT staff, merchandisers and others.

The integrated organization creates an efficient infrastructure that coordinates these agents to strategically plan, develop and deliver positive customer experiences. Unfortunately, while many organizations have invested in delivery tools, most organizations do not have an effective people, process and technology infrastructure that effectively enables collaboration and integration.

Most commonly, an organization's “experience agents” are cloistered within organizational departments based on role. Each department may have unique process and/or priorities that may conflict, overlap or compete with other departments. Add common organizational problems such as a lack of accountability, inefficient process, poor standards and fragmented communication, you’ve got an infrastructure that won’t readily support integrated marketing.

As a result, even in today's most successful companies, it is common to find individuals who aren’t positioned to pull together toward the finish line. Many disagree on the direction of the finish line. Some aren't even in the boat. Sadly, a significant few don’t even know they’re in a race.

CRM tools are extremely valuable for the coordination, delivery and measurement of marketing and sales activities. However, traditional CRM solutions rarely help coordinate, facilitate and help track or manage cross-departmental strategic planning or the development of the integrated experience. Planning, integrating, coordinating, managing and tracking these elements is critical to driving integrated outcomes.

This is part of the reason Marketing Resource Management ("MRM") (otherwise known as Marketing Operations Management) tools are increasing in popularity. Executives are realizing that in order to establish truly integrated, customer-centric outcomes, change must occur. For change to occur, the operation itself must first become more manageable, accountable and measurable.

MRM solutions providers like Aprimo and Unica are sweeping in to transform and systematize organizations like GM, Time Warner, Bank of America and Dell with strategic planning, workflow automation, knowledge management and other robust features. These providers position a "foot in the door" by first identifying a core operational issue (e.g. broken process) that can be quickly resolved and then expand outward into other departments by taking on more agressive change (business process automation for core functions, strategic marketing planning and controls, etc.).

While the impact of these technologies has not been felt on a sweeping scale to date, MRM solutions are likely to repair many of the operational gaps that impede integrated marketing today. Case studies are being published, and early evidence and analyst coverage is very positive. At the same time, the sheer scope of these implementations, extensive integration time and the change curve these tools demand mean it may be a while before we see staggering results or fully integrated operations.

However, even when MRM tools make the operational environment more consistent, process-driven, collaborative, easy to monitor, measure and manipulate, an equally big challenge will remain: Companies must begin to transform business culture to drive truly customer-centric behavior. This will require process and organizational adjustments, departmental integration, development of new core competencies and methodologies, increased focus on strategic planning, improved communication, out-of-the-box thinking and a good deal of trial-and-error.

In the mean-time, we can preach marketing integration and customer experience all we like. If we want to realize the promise of integrated marketing, we’ve got a lot of work on our hands.

(Photo courtesy of the focused and goal-centered Syracuse University Rowing Team)

Grand Theft Experience

Today, while waiting in Jeep dealership for an oil change, I entered into a chat with a 15 year old kid named Brent who voiced disgust at the removal of the video game Grand Theft Auto from the shelves at Target and WalMart.

Here’s a rough summary of our discussion, which proved to be more thought provoking for me than anticipated.

Leigh: “Brent, please tell me why this game so much more exciting than other games. What about it do you like?”

Brent: “It’s just much more realistic to life. I mean, it’s not set in space or anything. There are real streets and real people and real situations and stuff. You can even drive over the Golden Gate Bridge!"

Leigh: “So you relate to the realistic imagery. That would definitely distinguish it from a lot of other games. How about the mission and action in the game? I read the premise of the game is all crime-related, a lot of the people in the game criminals, thugs and drug dealers, and that there's a fair amount sexual content and explicit language.”

Brent: “Yeah, it's there, but I don’t buy it for that. Besides, that stuff isn't real. I mean, you kill someone in real life and you don’t get a star on your windshield. You go to jail.”

Leigh: “So, if you had a choice between Grand Theft Auto and a game with realistic imagery just like it – only with legal behavior, straight language and no sexually explicit content, which one would you choose?”

Brent: “Well of course, Grand Theft Auto.

Leigh: “So, if the sex, violence, illegal activity and language don’t make it more interesting, what is it then?”

Brent: “It’s just more fun and realistic. I don’t know what else to say.”

Leigh: “Okay. I’m interested to know if you think movies and video games are increasingly more violent and sexual ...and if so, why?”

Brent: (With fascination) “Yeah. TV and games keep getting worse. I think it’s like addiction. You can’t get enough. You know, it’s like food: Today, it’s like an obsession to people but a long time ago, it wasn’t.”

Leigh: "You used the word 'addiction'. What do the increasing amounts of action, violence, aggression, sexuality do for people?"

Brent: “I guess keep you interested?”

Leigh: “So, going back to Grand Theft Auto -- how long does this game keep you interested – two hours a day, maybe?”

Brent: “Well, lately. Sometimes more, but sometimes less.”

Leigh: "I understand the game manufacturer actually pre-loaded some really sexually explicit content and other options into the game when it was sold, but the public couldn’t access it. To access it you have to run a “mod” you can get from the internet."

Brent: “Yeah, that’s what I heard, too.”

Leigh: " I read that, if that sexual content were publicly available, the game wouldn’t have gotten the “M” rating - which means the big sellers (Wallmart and Target) wouldn’t have sold it. But it's easy to download the mod from the web and you don't have to be 18."

Brent: “Well, some stuff was in there. I don’t do the mods – I didn’t even know about it or how to do it. Some of my friends do them. I just play the game like it came.”

Leigh: “In your opinion, what kind of motivation would lead a company to pull a stunt like that?

Brent: “Well, I"m positive it will make more people want the game!”

Leigh: “What do you think the people who engineer these experiences (games, videos, tv shows) get in return? What did the gaming industry get from you?”

Brent: “Well, I bought the game - but that’s really it.”

Leigh: “Well, you bought the game player, the game and other games, right? Maybe also gaming magazines, right?" (Nodding) "So, they got some of your money, and by your admission, they also get about 10-14 hours of your time each week, right?”

Brent: “Naaw. Well. Maybe like 10 hours...”

Leigh: “Okay. So, it's not just about money. When was the last time you spent 10 hours per week on something? Say homework?” (Brent grimaces) “I’m just using the question to stimulate some thought about the power of spending 10 hours a week doing anything! Some people who see numbers like this think the game manufacturers are trying to program kids. What do you think about that?”

Brent: “Well, it’s not like I’m going to go out and shoot someone because I played this game. That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

Leigh: “You don’t seem like a potential serial murderer. Some say it might program you to become accustomed to violence, obscene language or sexual content? Others say it can create a decreaed attention span or habit for constant mental stimulation. What about reinforcing a sedentary lifestyle? I'm being a bit of a devi's advocate here -- are you concerned that time you spend program you in any way?

Brent: “Well, yeah, it probably does. But look - sometimes you just gotta escape, you know? Playing games helps you get away … People have jobs they hate and stuff. They get back from work all stressed and don’t want to do anything. They just want to get away.”

Leigh: “You are 15 years old. What are you escaping from?”

Brent: “Well, I might fail a test at school or something. Or get stress.”

Leigh: “Okay, believe it or not, I get this. I have TIVO. But, I know I'm not really escaping when I’m glued to the TV in my living room. Are you really getting away from anything when you play Grand Theft Auto? I mean, you’re in your room or living room or something – you’re not out anywhere, usually, right. If you did go out and, say, climb a rock – you’d really be getting away, right? Not just "vegging out" or checking out mentally, right?”

Brent: “Yeah, pretty much.”

Leigh: “Does playing the make your life materially different? Do you get something from it like the experience, feelings, new friendships or memories you might get from hiking, flying or four-wheeling for fun?“

Brent: “No. It's just fun. Mental escape.”

Leigh: “So the gaming industry is taking your money and lacing 10 plus hours of your "escape time" each week with increasing amounts of violence, action, violence and sexual content, which you called 'addicting.' You admit that it could subtly program you. Do you think this is a bad thing at all?”

Brent: “Nope, just as long as I’m happy.”

Leigh: “Are you really happy, or are you or just entertained?

Brent: (stunned look) “Man, that’s a good question. I never thought of it that way.”

Leigh: “Yeah, after all, we're just talking about a game, right?”

Brent: “Right.”

It occurs to me that Brent's experience isn't any different than my friend Jen's infatuation with soap operas and gossip magazines - or my own addiction to TIVO and going to movies. When you look at things plainly, these industries (e.g. entertainment) are less than subtle and they're making a mint off of our addiction to entertainment.

Marketing started by advertising neccessities... it later focused on innovations that promised an easier life.... later, we promoted luxuries for a better or different life. Today's marketers are promoting someone else's life as an ultimate form of escape. Beyond games, reality television is a great example of this -- only it's almost always fundamentally unrealistic.

Beyond games, is our rising infatuation with engaging in "manufactured experiences" (movies, gaming, amusement, gambling, etc..) dissuading us from participation in other experiences, which might make us healthier, result in stress reduction, new relationships, a greater sense of accomplishment, or the betterment of others? How much can does it work to isolate us? Feed our materialism? I wouldn't villainize the entertainment industry - however deserved. We follow along like lemmings. I just wonder what happened to common sense?

Compromising Experience

We spend billions of dollars on customer and product strategy, branding, creative, marketing and sales each year. Certainly, our approaches are well researched. Certainly, they have been heavily contemplated by a lot of smart people.

So, why do we consistently produce experiences which short-change the customer?

Perhaps one reason is that our corporate operational infrastructures often prevent design from becoming reality. Departmental silos, competing priorities, technology constraints, breakdowns in communication and process, operational inefficiencies are all enemies of creating positive customer experiences.

- Technology may require integration, fixes and/or work-arounds
- Data issues may drive segmentation or modeling adjustments
- Cost constraints may limit execution within channels

There are a myriad of legitimate factors that drive compromise. However, each change can also also work to undermine customer experience by limiting, changing or disconnecting customer access or altering touch dynamics and dialog. Compromise can also work to cumulatively undermine business cases, which can result in wasted investment. Left unchecked and unchallenged, compromises and "quick fixes" can also become institutional legacies that can create problems on a broader scale. Consider these real-life scenarios:

Sorry, sir, I can't find that offer in my system.
One of my clients, a top media and entertainment company, encountered problems tracking call-center offer response. Under scrutiny, it became clear that the company had no policy mandating the load of new offer information into the call center's offer management system.

Evidently, loading data into the system had become a cumbersome task, which bottle-necked at one individual inside the company. As a "temporary work around,” marketers started issuing flyers to the call center instead. These provided instructions for manual offer assembly and/or coding.

Imagine the flyers, piling up and falling off message boards and desktops. Imagine the customer, waiting for a representative to locate a flyer. Not only did this undermine order tracking, customers who called in to respond to offers were often met with seemingly clueless customer care representatives. Not good.

The entire mess originated with a broken process for loading and managing offer data. This resulted in a silo-based, “band-aid” solution for one campaign, which soon became a common, lazy practice. Left unchecked, this created much broader problems for the customer and the organization.

Sorry ma'am, we can't match our own offers

Last month, I bought a new laptop. I poured through a retailer's glossy (and expensive) direct mail catalog. This successfully drove me to the retailer’s web site, where, like a majority of computer purchasers, I did some research and competitive shopping. Later, secure with my choice, I walked in to the same retailer’s pleasantly remodeled store to see, touch and purchase my computer. However, in the store, my cross-channel experience fell apart.

The computer's unit pricing on the web matched the local store’s pricing. However, the purchase incentives (worth $300) did not. With reluctance, the salesman explained, "Our retail stores are not allowed to match offers from our web site”. I responded with disbelief. He responded with embarrassment, acknowledging that I wasn't the first customer to be frustrated by the policy and irritated with the brand.
When experiences are allowed to break down at fundamental levels, all the vision, strategy, creative, branding, technology, messaging and tap-dancing in the world won't help your brand. It is the cumulative customer experience which makes the indellible impression on the customer; that people share with family and friends; that drives brand success -- or failure.

Certainly, we dwell in a complex and real world. Our own corporate infrastructures can serve as unwitting opponents. Many of us are not empowered to fix some of the problems that most impact customers - and we fight many uphill battles. While can't solve every operational problem over night, we can employ more rigor to minimize the impacts of compromise on the customer.

Drive disciplined, accountable, comprehensive strategic planning

• Position all stakeholders as accountable customer experience agents
• Drive more efficient collaboration across departments & channels
• Plan around significant limitations in advance

Encourage and reward customer-centric dialog and process
• Use visuals and maps to document flow, touch & timing
• Identify & prioritize operational barriers
• Engage leadership to crush customer satisfaction barriers

Walk a mile (or two) in the customer's shoes
• Build awareness customer profiles, priorities & needs
• Incorporate all channels at an appropriate level
• Conduct experience walk-throughs at key phases to identify issues

Carefully evaluate the impact of change
• Don't be bullied into compromise
• Make sure impacts are fully considered
• Don't allow quick fixes to become surrogates for real solutions to customer problems

Measure and track the impact of change on the customer experience
• Document changes & impacts thoroughly
• Identify individuals who drive or mandate compromise
• Incorporate changes into business cases & maps for executive review

Following these suggestions will help drive additional accountability and motivate each contributor to think and behave in a customer centric manner. Collectively, this can help prevent a culture of compromise from consistently short-changing the customer -- and the brand.

Who's Getting it Right?

There are plenty of great examples of what's going wrong with customer experience out there. Mark Hurst takes an insightful and interesting look at broken, everyday experiences at

It's certainly easier for me personally to recognize what's wrong than to find and celebrate good experience - but we should do this. It supports optimism.

I'd like to begin to catalog the companies that are getting it right. Drop your comments and insight here so we can all "talk amongst ourselves." In the immortal words of Linda Richmond, "The chick pea is neither a chick, nor a pea. Discuss."





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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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