8 Data Points about the Importance of Customer Experience

I was asked to prepare some background information on the importance of delivering a positive customer experience, and I thought I would share some of the research with you.

How much does the market reward companies that deliver excellent customer experience? Consider that the Fortune list of the world’s 10 most admired companies in 2013 includes seven that are renowned for excellence in that area: Apple, Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Southwest, Disney and FedEx. The world’s two most valuable brands – Apple and Google – are considered world-class.

Recent research worth noting:

  1. Dell has published internal metrics showing that 97% of dissatisfied customers can be rescued with proactive intervention and more than 40% of those people actually become raving fans.
  2. Siegel+Gale’s 3rd annual Global Brand Simplicity Index reported last year that nearly 1/3 of American consumers would be willing to pay an average of about 4% more for simpler brand experiences.
  3. Gartner estimated last year that by 2014 “failure to respond via social channels can lead to up to a 15% increase in churn rate for existing customers.” You have to wonder why one-third of large corporations still block social network use by their employees.
  4. Research published by Temkin Group last year reported that only 7% of the 255 large companies it surveyed could be described as reaching the highest level of customer experience maturity, although nearly 60% said their goal is to be the industry leader in customer experience within three years. That’s gonna be a tall order.
  5. A July, 2013 Lloyd’s survey of 588 C-suite executives found that customer loss was their second biggest concern, exceeded only by worries about high tax rates. Respondents also indicated they are under-prepared to address this risk, with executives giving themselves only a 5.7 rating on a 1-to-10 scale (see chart below).Areas of Biggest Business Risk As Defined by CEOs
  6. Sixty-two percent of B2B and 42% of B2C customers purchased more after a good experience, while 66% and 52%, respectively, stopped making purchases after a bad experience, according to a recent survey of 1,000 people who had had recent customer service interactions. The research also indicated that customers are somewhat more likely to share bad experiences through social networks than good ones.
  7. Executives talk the talk but still don’t walk the walk. An Oracle survey of 1,342 senior-level executives from 18 countries earlier this year found that 97% agree that delivering a great customer experience is critical to business advantage and results, and that the average potential revenue loss from failing in this area is 20% of annual revenue.  However, 37% are just getting started with a formal customer experience initiative, and only 20% consider the state of their customer experience initiative to be advanced.
  8. A survey of 2,000 adults last year found that 83% are willing to spend more on a product or service if they feel a personal connection to the company. One-fifth said they would spend 50% more on companies that they felt the company put the customer first.

How to Get Salespeople Aboard the Social Media Train

One of the most common frustrations I hear B2B marketers express is about the difficulty of getting salespeople interested in social media. Outside of prospecting with LinkedIn, few sales pros are willing to make the investment of time to learn and use tools that promise a payoff months or years down the road.

Jeffrey HoffmanJeff Hoffman says he knows precisely why salespeople are so reluctant because he was one of them for a long time. Hoffman, who runs the Boston-based MJ Hoffman and Associates sales training and consulting agency, shared four ideas for getting salespeople off the social media dime in a presentation at the Inbound13 conference in Boston today. I think they’re worth sharing.

Hoffman listed four characteristics of salespeople that make them poor candidates for social media success:

They’re reluctant to share. Information is competitive advantage in sales. Whispered tips from insiders and competitive intelligence can make the difference between closing the deal or losing it. Many salespeople see no upside in sharing information, which is a practice which is essential to building social capital.

They’re short-term thinkers. Sales pros are driven by quotas, which are measured in monthly increments. Telling them that social media prospecting will pay off in a year or two doesn’t interest them. They’ve got a quarterly quota to meet.

They express only neutral opinions. Anything that ticks off the prospect can sabotage the sales, so salespeople are trained never to express strong opinions, especially negative ones. How good is a competitor’s product? It’s great, but we’re different and let me tell you how we’re better. The problem is that visibility in social media accrues to those who have strong opinions to share. By keeping their opinions to themselves, salespeople limit their potential social capital.

They’re natural quarterbacks. Salespeople are lone wolf decision-makers. They want to be given goals and also the latitude to figure out how to achieve them. If you know any successful salespeople, you know what I mean. Don’t waste time collaborating on a solution; give them the ball and they’ll run with it.

Lemons into Lemonade

So how do you convince people to be more social media-savvy when their natural inclinations go against the grain of everything they need to do? Hoffman says you turn a handicap into a virtue. Here’s his advice for dealing with each of these anti-social behaviors in order.

Reluctant to share? Make it a contest. Sales pros are naturally competitive, so make the process of building social capital a game. Set measurable goals like the number of Twitter followers, number of LinkedIn connections of number of contributions to the corporate blog, then put rewards in place. People will try to cheat, but that’s OK. The point is to get them involved.

Break down long-term goals into short-term milestones. Using the technique above, share the numbers with your sales team as social quotas. Post a leader board that shows each rep’s progress toward that goal. Make sure everyone can see the rankings. Salespeople take pride in beating their quotas, so make sure they know their up-to-date progress toward this one – and also everybody else’s.

Make it safe to express opinions. Ask for a blog entry on what they like best about sales, why they came to work for your company or 10 reasons to love the local football team. Find topics that enable them to exercise their opinion muscles without risking backlash. As they gain confidence (and see response), they’ll feel more comfortable venturing outside their comfort zone.

Turn quarterbacks into captains. Give sales reps the same control over their social capital as you do over their territories. The conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn will go on with or without them. Don’t change quotas, but create incentives for sales brought in through social channels. Then let the reps figure out how to achieve them.

The one theme that runs through all four of these tactics is competition. Sales people respond better to challenge than they do to opportunity, and better to short-term than to long-term goals. Make the process of building social authority a game and let the instincts of your sales people take over from there.

 

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How to Summarize Content for a Business Audience

In my previous post about How to Read and Summarize a 20-Page Research Report in 20 Minutes, I showed how to skim through a complex document and gather essential information to use in summarizing the material for a business audience. Now let’s build our summary from the material we highlighted.

We start by going back through the document we marked up earlier (it’s embedded in the previous post) and copying and pasting each highlighted section into a new document. Organize each element under one of the categories you used when marking up the document (for example, Key Point, Take Away, Summary Trend and New Insight). The result looks something like the document embedded below.

Then we plug our highlighted information into an “inverted pyramid” template. Inverted pyramid is an organizational technique that was invented many years ago in the newspaper industry when space was finite and stories often had to be cut at the last minute. Inverted pyramid dictates that information is presented in order of declining importance. That way, if the story needs to be cut to one paragraph at the last minute, the key points are still preserved.

You don’t hear much about inverted pyramid anymore because length isn’t an issue online, but it’s a very reader-friendly way to present information to time-pressed people. That makes it a good technique to use in business writing.

The technique of journalism writing.

Just the Facts? No

A good summary does more than just relate facts, though. It also provides context for why the facts are important and filles in background information that helps the reader understand how this new information moves their understanding forward. Here’s a typical example from an Aug. 1 AP story:

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell 19,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, the fewest since January 2008. The decline shows the job market continues to strengthen.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average slid 4,500 to 345,750. The July figures are typically volatile as the government has a difficult time adjusting for seasonal layoffs in the auto industry.

Still, the trend in weekly unemployment claims has been positive and offered hope that a better job market could help lift a sluggish economy later this year.

Look to this model when summarizing content. Your outline might look like this:

Paragraph 1 Key Point
Important Data 1
Key Takeaway
Paragraph 2 Important Data 2
New Insight
Paragraph 3 Callout or Quote
Paragraph 4 Important Data 3
Paragraph 5 Important Data 4
Potential Gotcha or
Summary Recommendations

Each paragraph should ideally introduce new data that moves the story forward. After you’ve introduced two or three new data points, step back and offer context for what you’ve just said. The exception is the middle of the summary, where the quote typically appears. Quotes shouldn’t be random or perfunctory. They should comment upon the data and insights already presented.

Putting It All Together

By dragging and dropping the highlighted information into this outline and then rewriting for consistency, we come up with this summary:

New research finds that midsize businesses are applying the same principles as big companies to extracting untapped value from data both inside and outside the organization. They are also motivated by the same goal as their corporate counterparts: to create a competitive advantage. The research challenges common perceptions that only big companies have the scale and computing power to realize the opportunity of “Big Data.”

A survey of more than 1,100 business and IT professionals in 95 countries – nearly half of which are midmarket businesses – also suggests that data quality is an important variable in the effective use of big data analytics. Researchers suggest that a fourth “V” – veracity – be added to the “three Vs” of big data that are commonly accepted. They include volume, variety and velocity.

“’Veracity emphasizes the importance of addressing and managing for the uncertainty inherent within some types of data,” the researchers say. Acknowledging that there is no such thing as perfectly clean data, they recommend that “the need to acknowledge and plan for uncertainty is a dimension of big data that has been introduced as executives seek to better understand the uncertain world around them.”

Customer-centered objectives are the principal drivers of big data projects, the research revealed. Other frequently mentioned goals include operational optimization, risk/fi­nancial management, employee collaboration and enabling new business models.

In order to get the most from big data, companies of all sizes need a scalable infrastructure and strong analytics. Even then, most are struggling to find the skills needed to analyze the deluge of unstructured data like voice, video and conversations in social media.

Note the third sentence in the first paragraph, which states that the research challenges conventional wisdom. This is an attention-getter. Whenever you can counter commonly held perceptions, you have a good chance of grabbing the audience’s attention.

Note the third sentence in the first paragraph, which states that the research challenges conventional wisdom. This is an attention-getter. Whenever you can counter commonly held perceptions, you have a good chance of grabbing the audience’s attention.

Paragraphs one, two and four primarily introduce new information. Paragraphs three and five step back and provide context. Again, this is a cadence that readers are comfortable with.

This is just one of many ways to write a business summary, but it’s a reliable one. It uses a cadence that’s familiar to most people and gets across the key points of the research in declining order of importance.

Next we’ll talk about writing headlines for different audiences.

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A Content Marketing Gem from Marketo

Marketo's Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book

Marketo calls the Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book “30 pages of pure, unadulterated marketing activity fun!” It is that. It’s also brilliant.

The theme of fun runs throughout this e-book, and the content maps perfectly to Marketo’s message that marketing is fun again. There’s a crossword, connect-the-dots, Mad Libs, a comic book, word search, a word jumble and all the standard fun-book activities, but the marketing them runs throughout and the content is highly relevant to professional marketers. I was delighted to be included on page 12, but that’s not why I’m writing this post. The Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book is one of the cleverest pieces of content marketing I’ve seen in some time.

Congratulations to Jason Miller and the team and Marketo that dreamed up this gem. There’s even a “This Book Belongs To _________________________” on the cover. Hilarious! BTW, if you get five other people to download the PDF Marketo offers to send you a printed version and a box of crayons.

Interesting Threads in Dell’s 2013 Social Media Predictions

I happen to be one of the 14 people quoted in this Dell e-book, Social Media Predictions for 2013, but that’s not why I’m pointing out to you. I have great respect for every one quoted in this book, but what’s interesting is the common themes that emerge. For example:

  • Several of these experts see a strong year for Google+, while most believe Facebook is in for slow growth or even decline. I agree completely. The more I use G+, the more I like it. In contrast, I think Facebook is increasingly a place for backslapping and trash talking without the means to sustain meaningful conversations. In other words, I think the novelty of Facebook is wearing off. BTW, Pinterest and Tumblr also draw a lot of praise.
  • There’s a strong subtext of the need to make interactions more meaningful and personal and for brands to unleash their people to speak as themselves. Stop using social media as another kind of fire hose and start using it for listening, which is its most basic value.
  • There are some good quotes on context and sourcing. Basically, stop throwing content against the wall and start making it more meaningful. Geoff Livingston’s comments on creating trusted content are particularly good.
  • A couple of the interviewees call for more civility online, which is something I think we can all support. I like the way Shel Israel phrased it: “It seems to me that that people on social networks were adversely influenced by the…recent presidential campaign. They feel the best way to be right is to demean people who disagree with them.”
  • Lee Odden’s passage on hash tags is a riot: “#lets #just #stop #with #the #hashtagging #of #every #word #in #a #tweet #OK? #You #keyword #spammer #you.” Completely agree.

Here’s the embed, which links to the document on SlideShare.

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Small Firms Again Trump Enterprises in Social Media Use, UMass Study Reveals

The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is out with its latest survey of the Inc. 500’s use of social media, and once again small companies outpace large ones. Ninety-two percent of the Inc. 500 use at least one of the tools studied, which include blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest and Foursquare.

Blog use by Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 companiesInterestingly, the use of blogs jumped among the Inc. 500 after four years of little or no groth. Forty-four percent of the 2012 Inc. 500 are blogging, compared to just 23% of the Fortune 500. The figure is a jump from the 37% of Inc. 500 companies that were blogging in 2011. Researchers Nora Ganim Barnes and Ava Lescault found that 63% of Inc. 500 CEOs contribute to blog content.

Also notable is the surge of interest in LinkedIn, which is being used by 81% of companies compared to 67% for Facebook and Twitter. Facebook was the big loser in this survey. Its usage dropped 7% from last year.  Up-and-comers are Foursquare (28%) and Pinterest (18%).

Growth in social media investment showed signs of slowing in this survey. Only 44% of respondents says they’re looking to spend more on social media, down from 71% in the 2011 survey. Forty-one percent say their level of investment will remain, up from 25% last year.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said social media is “very necessary or “somewhat necessary” to the growth of their company. This is the sixth year The Center for Marketing Research at UMass Dartmouth has conducted the study.

There’s lots more on the summary page, including links to downloads of the full results.

 

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Social Marketing Wisdom From a True Practitioner

Stand Out Social Marketing starts a little slow, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded with truly actionable insight that can help your whole company become more social.

Stand Out Social Marketing coverThis new book comes from Mike Lewis, who is head of marketing at Awareness Networks, a personal friend and one of the nicest guys I know. Stand Out builds on the premise that a great online presence is a function of distinctive content delivered through multiple channels with the assumption that interactions with constituents are part of the process. The book’s initial focus on social listening tactics is somewhat incongruous in that context, but it gets rolling as Lewis moves along.

There have been plenty of books about social media marketing written by people (like me) who don’t do much of it. What makes Stand Out such a stand out is that Lewis not only brings years of field experience to the topic but also insight gleaned from hundreds of customer experiences.

This book is worth its cover price for chapter 4 alone. In it, Lewis sets out practical guidelines for getting the most out of social media interactions based upon real data from real campaigns. Lewis has the benefit of being able to tap into the knowledge that huge brands like Major League Baseball have gained from analyzing millions of customer reactions, and some of the insights are fascinating. For example:

–People post more content to social channels on Friday than any other day of the week, but Thursdays have significantly higher interaction rates.

–Nearly 100% of interactions around content posted to Facebook and Twitter occurs during the first 10 days, but only 34% of interactions around YouTube and WordPress content happens during that time. This means that content posted to these channels should be created differently depending on when people are most likely to discover it.

–Content published to three or more social channels generates about 30% more engagement than content posted to a single social channel.

This is what I call really actionable information. It will immediately change some of your tactics – and for the better.

In addition to  statistics like these, Lewis offers practical advice buttressed by concrete examples. For example, “Content should be focused on the needs of your prospects and customers – not on you, your company or your product.” While experienced social marketers may think this advice is obvious, it’s stunning how few marketers think this way.

Stand Out also has several excellent case studies from both B2C and B2B businesses that dramatize the advantages of engaging in conversation rather than spewing messages. An accompanying website provides bonus information that builds on many of the points raised in the book.

A metrics section near the end introduces some new measurement tactics that were unfamiliar to me but which provide a solid foundation for understanding reach and effectiveness. It goes well beyond fans or followers to include factors like SEO effectiveness, interactions, activity and even customer service. These are useful ideas to internalize in making a comprehensive ROI evaluation. I honestly prefer tampa seo to help me website.

It’s hard to think of a social media marketing angle that hasn’t already been covered by some other text. Mike Lewis manages to find one.

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Attack of the Customers: The Pampers Dry Max Crisis

This an excerpt from the opening chapter of Attack of the Customers: Why Critics Assault Brands Online and What You Can Do About It by Paul Gillin and Greg Gianforte. Buy the book on Amazon.


In March, 2010, Procter & Gamble announced the most significant technical advance in disposable diapers in a quarter century. The new Dry Max line featured an absorbent gel that improved diaper efficiency while cutting materials and costs by 20%. The thinner diapers addressed the number one complaint of diaper customers, which was bulk, while also reducing cost and environmental impact. The innovation was so impressive that former president Bill Clinton praised the diaper for reducing landfill waste.

Pampers Dry Max packageHowever, Rosana Shah of Baton Rouge, LA was not impressed. Shah had noticed a change in the Pampers Cruisers she used to diaper her baby several months earlier. “The new design had less cotton pulp and was missing the dry weave liner,” she wrote in an e-mail interview. “The back of the diaper was just thin, papery diaper cover, no absorption material whatsoever.” Worse was that the child had become afflicted with diaper rash. “Every time I tried to change her diaper she would cringe and cry,” Shah wrote. “All she could voice at the time was ‘it hurts.’”

Shah believed P&G had substituted a cheaper Cruisers for its existing product and not told anyone about it. “I called Pampers and complained and was told this was the first they were hearing of these issues,” she wrote. “When I asked if there was a change in design, they denied it at first.”

In fact, Shah’s suspicions were correct. P&G had actually begun shipping the new product in August, 2008, more than 18 months before it was announced. The practice is called slipstreaming, and it’s common in high-volume consumer packaged goods markets that manufacture products by the millions at facilities around the world.

“Figuratively, if you’ve got 500 diaper production lines, you convert the first line on day one and 500 days later you convert the 500th,” explained Paul Fox, P&G’s director of corporate communications. “During that time you’ve got a mix of the old and new product on the market.” New products typically aren’t announced until the distribution pipeline is full, but by that time millions of people may already be using the new product.

That was the case with Pampers Dry Max. By the time of the early 2010 rollout, more than 2 billion unbranded Dry Max diapers had already been sold “without issue,” Fox said. P&G had carefully monitored its customer support calls for evidence of customer dissatisfaction but had detected nothing out of the ordinary. The company typically logs two complaints for every one million diapers sold, and there was nothing to indicate that Dry Max had moved that needle.

Not that P&G expected big problems. The company was well aware that the entire Pampers franchise depended upon customer trust. “Not a grain of sand was left unturned” in Dry Max safety testing, Fox said. “A brand whose whole equity is based on babies’ welfare isn’t going to do anything that poses any form of risk to a baby.”

So staffers were understandably concerned when a Facebook group appeared in late 2009 entitled “Pampers bring back the OLD CRUISERS/SWADDLERS.” The group was launched by Shah after her visits to the Pampers Facebook page and Pampers website convinced her that “many parents were also experiencing confusion.” The group’s initial demands were simple: Members wanted P&G to bring back the old diapers. But as membership grew it became a lightning rod for an assortment of other complaints and accusations.

Building on early charges that P&G had failed to adequately disclose changes in the product, members began complaining of leakage and flimsy construction. By spring the discussion was centered on complaints that Dry Max diapers caused diaper rash.

Members reported that children were developing blisters within hours of being diapered with Dry Max. References to “burn marks” emerged, followed by reports of “chemical burns.” One mother of multiples reported that all four of her children were suffering severe diaper rash. The culprit was clear: Dry Max diapers were inflicting agonizing pain on babies.

No one was actually citing any scientific evidence to support the claims, and a few voices noted that gap. However, some doctors were telling parents that the diapers were a possible culprit and that was good enough to stoke the outrage.

In February, 2010, a visitor began a campaign called “Flood the CPSC!” encouraging others to take their complaints to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. In May, a group of parents filed a class action lawsuit.

At P&G’s Cincinnati headquarters staffers were alarmed and perplexed. Diaper rash is an unfortunately common occurrence that afflicts about one in four babies at any given time. The company dispensed advice to concerned parents about the topic through a variety of channels, pointing out that while a tight-fitting diaper may create the conditions for diaper rash, the problem was not caused by the diaper itself.

Staffers were convinced of Dry Max’s superiority. The product had been heralded as a breakthrough by Good Housekeeping magazine and had already received several awards. How could consumers not see its benefits?

Many of the 11,000 members of the Facebook group didn’t. They believed that the thinner diapers were simply a low-cost replacement for the product they had known and loved. They believed P&G was shoring up profits at the expense of their children’s health.

Post from "Pampers bring back the OLD CRUISERS/SWADDLERS" Facebook page

Standoff

As complaints piled up, a conspiracy mentality took hold. Visitors griped about everything from rude P&G customer service reps to price changes. A change in a store display at a local Walmart was evidence that P&G was undertaking a stealth recall. Journalists were requesting interviews and by late spring the story had begun showing up on local TV stations

By the time Paul Fox arrived on the scene, the Dry Max protest was beginning to spin out of control. Jodi Allen, P&G’s vice president of North America baby care, was taking a personal role in countering critics, posting comments on the Pampers website, recording web videos and participating in discussion groups. However, the volume of complaints was piling up too fast for the P&G staff to handle.

Allen was banned from the Facebook group, an action that Shah said was justified because P&G had not provided a place on the Pampers website or Facebook page to state its case. However, Allen’s membership in the group had been blocked because Shah said the executive had made no attempt to request membership. She also called Allen’s comments “scripted statements” that lacked sincerity.

Fox is a 30-year media relations veteran with more than a decade at P&G and experience with the customer skirmishes that are a constant fact of life at such companies. Fox first urged the team to investigate all possible causes for the complaints. Was it possible that the manufacturing line was compromised or that product had been tampered with in the field? Satisfied that the answer was no, he focused the strategy around a few core principles:

  • Get P&G off the defensive;
  • Dispel rumors that P&G would reintroduce the discontinued products;
  • Educate parents about diaper rash;
  • Refocus the discussion on the welfare of the children.

The final point was particularly smart. P&G was engaged in a vicious circle of accusation that had transcended diaper rash and become a proxy for helpless consumers versus heartless corporations. By concentrating on child safety, P&G effectively allied itself with its critics. Amid the charges and counter charges, no one had ever suggested that child safety was not the overriding concern of all parties. Accused and accuser were effectively now on the same side. That was an important step.

Pampers staffers also had to be encouraged to restrain themselves from countering point criticism, particularly that which was nothing more than opinion. “Responding to inflammatory stories that have little basis in fact is a distraction,” Fox said. “Engaging on that level can be the equivalent of throwing gasoline on the fire.” Basically, when critics become convinced you can’t do anything right, then you can’t.

Instead, P&G focused on educating dispassionate opinion leaders who appeared genuinely interested in hearing both sides of the story. It brought two groups of “mom bloggers” to Cincinnati to meet with executives and scientists and address their questions. It stepped up advertising about the benefits of Dry Max and posted videos by leading pediatricians about the causes and treatment of diaper rash. “If parents weren’t seeking medical attention or treating the diaper rash, that was a big concern,” Fox said. “Our focus was ‘We are both concerned about the pain of diaper rash so we are focusing on that and not in the medical negligence, since for that there are professionals that can handle it as The Medical Negligence Experts. Let’s seek treatment’”

The company began making a more focused effort to spend time explaining diaper rash to parents who called. It even sent representatives into the field to meet with particularly concerned parents. The company invited media to Baby Care Headquarters in Cincinnati to meet with developers and product managers. In contrast to the earlier defensiveness P&G had shown about the controversy, it was now displaying complete transparency.

Vindication and Lessons

The turning point came in early September when the CPSC, which had agreed to investigate the case after receiving hundreds of letters, absolved Dry Max of any responsibility for diaper rash. By fall the volume of complaints had slowed to a trickle and P&G was no longer discussing the incident. Shah’s group is still on Facebook, but new posts appear weekly instead of hundreds per day.

Even absolution from the government watchdog hasn’t convinced critics. Shah charges that P&G enjoys a cozy relationship with the CPSC that may have prompted the agency to downplay its findings. She also cited media reports that claimed portions of the agency’s report are missing. A spokesman for the CPSC said the agency works with hundreds of companies on various standards committees and the charges of collusion are baseless. “Just because we know people doesn’t indicate any impropriety,” he said.

Fox called the collusion allegation “an insult” and said the only information missing from the report is that which was mutually agreed to be proprietary, a statement the CPSC spokesman confirmed.

Could P&G have handled the Pampers Dry Max case better? Probably. By slipstreaming a product into the market that was noticeably different from the one it replaced, the company invited scrutiny. The fact that Dry Max looked on the surface to be a cheaper diaper didn’t help. However, the Pampers team was so convinced of the product’s superiority that they focused more on the positive splash it would make in the market than the possibility that some people might be alarmed by the visible changes.

P&G knows better than any company that people treat their personal care products like an old friend. Change can be unsettling, in the same way that an old friend showing up at a party with a nose job and a new wife might cause unease for everybody.

The incident was also a classic example of the suspicion with which many people regard large companies. As a member of P&G’s Digital Advisory Board, Paul has worked with brand managers in many of the company’s divisions and been impressed by their commitment to quality and customer satisfaction. However, few customers are fortunate enough to have that insight. Many people see a large corporation as a symbol of greed. An incident like this reinforces that perception.

Critics accused P&G of opacity in its initial response to customer concerns. There were valid reasons why the company didn’t tell critics that the diaper’s design had been changed before the official announcement. There was no way to fill the supply channel with the new product without slipstreaming, and P&G wanted to wait until Dry Max was available everywhere to turn on the marketing spigot. Dribbling out details months before the formal launch would have undermined the formal rollout and created confusion that the company was not prepared to handle. Nevertheless, plausible explanation would have been better than denial. Once the conversation shifted from preschool programs denver co education, the tone changed dramatically. Pampers sales quickly recovered after a brief decline and complaints fell back into normal range.

The Dry Max crisis came at a time when P&G was engineering a companywide shift toward customer engagement through social media. Fox says the experience was a critical teaching point. “You can’t join a community at a time of crisis. You have to already be invested,” he said. “Becoming a trusted voice requires an investment of time, people and money.”

The experience was a lesson for Rosana Shah as well. “We found parents and caregivers from as far away as South Africa, Australia, England, France and Germany. Everyone was scratching their heads wondering if it was just them,” she wrote. “We turned out to be 11,000 members who made the media, government bodies and P&G finally take notice.”

Although some people might have called it a lynch mob.

How Twitter Amplifies a Customer Attack

The following is an excerpt for the forthcoming book, Attack of the Customers: Why Critics Assault Brands Online and How to Avoid Becoming a Victim, by Paul Gillin and Greg Gianforte. The target publication date is late 2012. I’ll be posting a few excerpts here during the next few months and would appreciate your comments.


We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.

Berkeley professor Robert Wilensky uttered that memorable quote in 1996. Were he speaking it today, he might refer instead to Twitter.

Twitter is the enigma of social networks. It’s limited to text messages of 140 characters. It doesn’t support photos, videos or applications natively. Instead of friends, it uses the simpler connection metaphor of follower or subscriber. Even its website is so weak that only a minority of its members use it.

How does a service with so little going for it create so damn much trouble?

The answer lies just above the number 3 on your keyboard. The hash tag (#), which was created by the Twitter community to help bring order to the service’s inherent chaos, has become one of the Internet’s most powerful organizing and amplification tools. It’s helped Twitter become a core utility for arranging everything from book signings to mass protests.  It’s also established the popular microblog service as a prime channel for customer complaints and a favored tool of the critics we call “Casual Complainers.” The #fail tag, which denotes poor performance by a person or company, is monitored by millions and is not one you want to see next to your name.

Order From Chaos

More than five years after Twitter launched, we still hear questions all the time about its value. To the uninitiated, it’s a cacophony of voices sharing mostly useless information. And to a large extent that’s true. The low barrier to entry and ease-of-use are two of Twitter’s most endearing points. People can share anything and they do. The power of Twitter comes from filtering out the junk and focusing on what’s important to you.

Twitter’s simplicity and accessibility are it strongest features. Messages can be sent and received on nearly any cell phone. Updates are instantaneous, which makes Twitter a valuable news tool. When seeking updates on a breaking news story, Twitter is often a much better source than the traditional media. Instead of relying on just one channel for information, you tap into the collective reports of many. Within a few seconds of news breaking anywhere, it’s on Twitter. People with large Twitter followings can quickly magnify a complaint with a single retweet, and the media has learned to use Twitter both as an amplifier and a leading indicator of developing news.

While Twitter has occasionally been used to originate major attacks, its 140-character message limit doesn’t permit much poetic license. Attackers are more likely to post their gripes on a blog or Facebook and use Twitter to extend their reach.

Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and other social networks are all amplifiers to some extent, but Twitter is unique in that its content is public. Facebook members share messages and links mainly with people they already know. In contrast, following a hash tag enables you to see all messages from all Twitter users about that topic. As a result, awareness can spread more quickly on Twitter than in any other social medium.

While the number of links shared on Twitter is less than one-third the number shared on Facebook, Twitter links are clicked on about 12% more often, according to a study by ShareThis, Starcom MediaVest Group and Rubinson Partners[1]. Sharing a tweet with one’s followers is a two-click process on most PCs and mobile devices. This ease of sharing is why Twitter’s amplification power is so great. About 40% of messages on Twitter include a URL. This makes Twitter a rapid vehicle for spreading long-form content like videos and blogs.

Another distinguishing – if not unique – value of Twitter is its speed. Messages can be fired off in a few seconds and instantly reach a global audience. The combination of speed and hash tags has made Twitter an effective medium for managing crowds. During the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York in 2011, for example, the #needsoftheoccupiers tag made it possible for supporters to identify and respond to requests from protesters for everything from books to pizza[2]. Organizers were able to move protests fluidly around the city by posting new locations to the #OWS tag.

Twitter has attracted an enthusiastic audience but not a very diverse one. The service is particularly popular with professional communicators, journalists, marketers, technology professionals and social media enthusiasts. Celebrities have embraced it as a way to connect directly with their fans (for example, more than 1,700 NFL players are on Twitter, according to Tweeting-Athletes.com) and media organizations have adopted it en masse to get bonus visibility for their coverage before it hits the newswires.

Acceptance by such visible people has perhaps made Twitter’s influence disproportionate to its actual numbers. In fact, most Twitter members use the service very little. A 2009 study by Sysomos reported that 85% of Twitter users post less than one update per day, 21% have never posted anything and only 5% of Twitter users produce 75% of the content[3].

However, even that small number can unleash a breathtaking amount of information. Dell Computer, for example, monitors about 25,000 messages per day in social media, most of them from Twitter, says Richard Binhammer of Dell’s social media group. Dave Evans, author of Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day and Vice President of Social Strategy at Social Dynamx sums it up: “When you really stare down the Twitter firehouse and see what’s coming at you, it’s scary.”

Bottom line: While Twitter may be the small compared to Facebook, its vocal and influential member base can create trigger a storm of controversy with amazing speed.

Early-Warning System

Twitter has played an amplification role in nearly every social media attack of the last four years. Journalists monitor trending hash tags to detect stories bubbling up through social media. Many create filtered tweet streams of the companies, government agencies and celebrities they cover. You should do the same for your own company and brands.

Although major attacks rarely begin on Twitter, the service is a good way to identify problems before they get out of hand. One reason airlines watch Twitter so closely, for example, is that frustrated customers take first to their smart phones when delayed on the tarmac or frustrated at the ticket counter.

Twitter was the vehicle director Kevin Smith used in February, 2010 to express outrage about being denied seating on a Southwest Airlines flight because airline personnel claimed the 300-plus-pound Smith wouldn’t fit in a single seat. Smith tweeted his attacks for days and continued the criticism on his podcast. Southwest stuck to its guns and arguably suffered little from the incident, but media attention kicked off a bigger debate about America’s obesity epidemic and the responsibility of businesses to accommodate oversized customers.

Brandjacked!

One unique form of Twitter attack is “brandjacking,” or false accounts that appear to be real. The critic may use an account name that’s substantially similar to a visible person or brand to post satirical or embarrassing messages.

The most notable example of Twitter brandjacking was @BPGlobalPR, which popped up during the 2010 Gulf oil and began skewering BP as the oil company desperately struggled to stop the Deepwater Horizon spill. The account attracted 160,000 followers – more than four times the following of BP’s real North American Twitter account – and generated huge amounts of media coverage. The fact that the author remained anonymous until months after the crisis ended contributed to public curiosity[4].

A rogue employee at publisher Condé Nast created an account that relayed bizarre comments overheard in the elevator. @CondeElevator was quickly shut down, but not before its follower account exceeded 80,000. A similar account about elevator gossip at Goldman Sachs was still active and being followed by more than 260,000 people as of this writing. It’s doubtful the investment banker would want its customers to hear comments like “Retail investors should be circumspect of any offering they’re able to get their hands on. If you can get it, you don’t want it,” but private conversations like that are now public record.

Twitter has cracked down on parody accounts that deliberately misrepresent a brand, but the policy doesn’t apply to individuals, and variations of brand names are still allowed. Celebrities like Hosni Mubarak, Roger Clemens and William Shatner have been portrayed by fake Twitter accounts and brand variations like @ATT_Fake_PR and @FakePewResearch provide satirical and often very funny sendups of their targets. If you’ve been brandjacked you can appeal to Twitter directly, but be prepared to wait. If the satirist is working within Twitter’s guidelines, you have to take a more conventional crisis management approach.

Best Defense

The best defense against a Twitter attack is to listen. Free Twitter clients like TweetDeck and HootSuite do a good job of catching mentions of your brand or products. If the volume of mentions is large, or if you want to filter for sentiment to detect a surgeon negativity, you’ll need a paid listing tool like Radian6, Lithium or Sysomos.[5] Listening is easy and low-risk, but think twice before you let your branded Twitter account wade into a conversation. The precedent you set may come back to haunt you when people begin to expect response. Unless you’re prepared to devote resources to engaging on Twitter every day, the safest course is just to keep your ear to the ground.

We can’t think of a good reason why every company today shouldn’t have a branded Twitter account. Even if you only use it to disseminate press releases, it at least plants a flag in this increasingly critical community. If you do need to engage in a discussion, at least be familiar with the culture and style of the participants. Know who’s influential so that in a crisis you can get messages to people with the broadest reach.

If an attack appears to be forming, look for the following:

  • Trending hash tags that include your company name (most Twitter clients display the top trending tags by default; Whatthetrend.com can give you more detail);
  • Keywords that indicate high levels of emotion or that refer to serious problems that are unique to your product category;
  • Complaints directed specifically at your company (denoted by messages that begin with your company’s Twitter handle)
  • Retweets of negative messages by people who are influential in your market

Standard crisis communications rules apply to your response, with some twists that are unique to Twitter:

  • Use a consistent Twitter account to avoid confusion. It’s fine to retweet via other accounts that you own or influence.
  • Address affected parties, not spectators.
  • If the problem affects just a few people, ask them to follow you, then send a direct message with an e-mail address or phone number to resolve the issue out of public view.
  • If you know nothing about the issue being discussed, send a tweet stating that you’re looking into the problem. Then tweet follow-up information as you receive it.
  • Show empathy, but stick to the facts. Don’t debate hecklers.
  • If the problem is systemic (such as an outage or recall), create a Web page or blog post with details about the situation. Post updates there and tweet them under your account(s).
  • If there are people with large followings involved, consider tweeting updates directly to them. It’s OK to ask for a retweet.
  • For a problem affecting multiple customers, consider creating a unique hash tag for updates.
  • When the problem is resolved, tweet that.

Many consumer-focused companies are now using Twitter for front-line customer support. Twitter can be a great tool for such purposes, but be aware of what you’re getting into. When you set the precedent of addressing complaints within hours or minutes, customers will come to expect the same service all the time. Failing to deliver it can actually create a problem.

Consider this case: In 2009, Paul tweeted a complaint about his credit card provider and was pleasantly surprised to get a nearly instantaneous response from a representative of the company. The rep asked Paul to contact him privately via direct message, which Paul did. He never heard from the rep again.

Several months later, Paul was attending a reception at the South by Southwest conference when he ran into the very same credit card rep. The man told him that at the time of their original cash in 15 minutes direct lender, he was the only employee of the company – which is one of the largest financial firms in the world – authorized to communicate on Twitter. Swamped by the thousands of messages customers were tweeting every day, he had simply stopped responding. Do not let that happen to you.

[1] “ShareThis and Starcom MediaVest Group Collaborate to Release First Comprehensive Study on Sharing,” ShareThis press release, June 6, 2011, http://blog.sharethis.com/2011/06/06/sharethis-and-starcom-mediavest-group-collaborate-to-release-first-comprehensive-study-on-sharing (accessed July 18, 2012)

[2] Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America (New York and London: OR Books, 2011) p. 156.

[3] Alex Cheng and Mark Evans, “An In-Depth Look Inside the Twitter World,” Sysomos Resource Library, June, 2009, http://www.sysomos.com/insidetwitter. (accessed July 21, 2012).

[4] The author turned out to be Josh Simpson, a 26-year-old aspiring comedian from Los Angeles whose career has no doubt been boosted at BP’s expense.

[5] There are scores of these tools on the market but few comprehensive ratings guides. Two places to look are Bulldog Reporter’s PR Monitoring & Measurement Software Buyer’s Guide (http://www.bulldogreporter.com/2012-pr-monitoring-buyers-buyers-guide-comparison-chart) and the Social Media Monitoring Category of TopTen Reviews (http://social-media-monitoring-review.toptenreviews.com/). Be careful when relying on Google search for evaluations because the market changes rapidly and many top Google results are three or more years old.

Research Finds Expanded Marketing Role Correlates With Business Results

At the risk of beating a dead horse, here’s further evidence that IT organizations need to take a more active role in supporting social business.

According to VisionsLive Market Research, IBM just released a global survey of more than 360 marketing practitioners and one of the key findings is that marketers want to be better aligned with their IT organizations. You can see a 28-slide summary of the top findings here.

There’s a lot of data about the lousy tools most marketers have two analyze the flood of data they’re collecting, but the relevant point for tech pros is that “nearly 60% indicate that lack of IT alignment and integration are significant barriers to the adoption of technology.” Marketers say they work pretty well with IT organizations in general, but those at top-performing companies have better-than-average relationships.

The research breaks the respondent base into two categories: Top Performers and Rest of Population. It finds that the best marketers have higher-than-average involvement in products, price, placement and promotion than average. They’re also more likely to be involved in customer service, supply networks and multi-channel marketing. basically, they’re assuming a more central role in business strategy.

However, they’re mostly flying blind because analyzing results is a huge challenge. Among the the top problems are measuring effectiveness, juggling data coming in from multiple sources and managing complex business rules. Eighty-five percent of marketers say they need an integrated suite to manage multi-channel communications. And who better to help them get there than the technology pros?

Other interesting data: E-mail is kind of a mess. Two thirds of marketers don’t integrate e-mail data with other customer information or they integrate data manually, which doesn’t scale. Only 21% have mobile marketing campaigns and 80% handle mobile marketing on an ad hoc basis. We’re still very early stage with that channel.

Overall, there’s a lot of good news for marketing in this research. It establishes that companies that expand the role of marketing beyond mere messaging are seeing better business results. That’s a good thing, right?

Press release/summary of results