For the past six months I’ve been writing a book about marketing and the role of the CMO as a steward of customer experience. As such, I’ve been on the lookout for stories about customer experience gone right and wrong. Yesterday AT&T nominated themselves in the latter category.
What made the experience unique was AT&T’s delivery of a series of interconnected failures. It started on the AT&T website where I selected my desired handset in the wrong color (my fault). When the phone was delivered a few days later I immediatly realized my mistake. I could have shipped the phone back in the box but I was excited to set the phone up over the long weekend. So, I called the AT&T store that was a few miles from my home and asked if they would make an exchange in the store. They said yes. I asked if they had the phone I wanted in stock. They said yes. I asked how long it would take. They said 15 minutes. Perfect, I grabbed the phone and headed out. All was right in the world.
Fail #1: Offer me an appointment
Upon arriving at the store, I was told that I’d be facing an hour long wait. I was surprised by this considering that I’d called 30 minutes earlier. Granted they could have just experienced a rush, but why didn’t they offer me an appointment -or at least to put me on the list- when I called? Since you’re selling Apple hardware you might want to follow their lead when it comes to in-store appointment too. But there I was, so I accepted my fate and prepared to wait.
Fail #2: Text me when it’s my turn
To add me to the waitlist the attendant asked for my phone number. I gave her my number and asked if they’d text me when I was close to the top of the list. Nope, they don’t do that. I had to wait in the store until my name was called off the list. But wait, I just gave you my number, you’ve got a digitally managed waitlist, and your a telephony company! Perhaps the in-store displays about AT&T mobile home automation gave me the impression that AT&T was a forward thinking and innovative company. My bad.
Fail #3: Advise your customer
Almost an hour later (at least they didn’t underestimate the wait), it’s my turn and they guy asks me for my phone number. Um, you mean the number I gave you already. Hmmmm. He asked what he can do for me and I tell him I just want to exchange the phone I received for an identical model in a different color. That’s when he informs me that there is a “restocking fee” for all exchanges done in store. Deep breath. “So what you’re telling me is that when I called to ask if I could exchange this phone the attendant neglected to mention that it’s free to do it by mail but that there’s a fee to do it in the store?” Wow. I recount failures #1 and #2 as for some consideration after waiting an hour, how about waiving the fee? I then wait 10 minutes for a manager to deny that request. If, however, I wanted to buy more stuff from the store I can have a 10% discount. Hmmm. You know, I think I’ll pass on that generous offer.
Fail #4: Use your f’ing data
I’d invested over an hour and a half in this charade thus far, so I figured that I might as well just get it done (the restocking fee is less than my hourly rate). The guy now goes to the stock room and spends 10 minutes finding a phone? When he returns he asks me for my phone number for a third time. Impressive. I tell him and then he starts doing some stuff on an iPad. He then stops and shows me a message on the screen on the iPad that says “exchanges from corporate accounts cannot be done in-store”. Holy f’ing hell. You mean you used the phone number that I gave you over an hour-and-a-half ago to figure that out!
At this point I cursed. But, I also smiled at the customer experience story I’d just had first hand. AT&T failed in multiple ways here and missed so many opportunities to deliver a great customer experience. They missed with their systems, their frontline employees and even with their store manager. The good new for AT7T is that these things should not be that hard to fix with proper process and systems I sincerely hope that someone at AT&T is listening.
Putting your ideas out there can be scary, especially when you’re discussing a complex –and at times divisive- topic. But, that’s what I’m trying to do with a book entitled, “The New Marketing Manifesto – Marketing Modernization In An Agile World”. I’m giving up nights and weekends to this project because books were instrumental in my own development as a marketer. In fact, I’m not “officially” educated as marketer. I don’t have a marketing degree or even an MBA. What I have –besides a full bookshelf- is real life experience as an entrepreneur, marketing consultant, and marketing leader. As such, I’ve probably touched more aspects of marketing than most marketers. It turns out that this kind of experience is quite relevant in a rapidly evolving marketing industry. The fact is that very few marketing students are learning about how to use crowd-funding sites to validate product concepts and messaging, or how to manage and leverage advocate communities with social platforms. While marketing programs can certainly nail fundamentals, I’d argue that things are moving too fast for most curriculums to keep pace today.
My book offers what might appear –at first- to be a somewhat controversial thesis, namely that what’s driving change in the marketer’s world is coming from an unexpected place, development. In fact, the title of this book, The New Marketing Manifesto, refers to the Agile Manifesto – a declaration by a group of influential developers who have effectively revolutionized the way that software development is done. And it turns out that their approach is so powerful that it’s now influencing the rest of the business. The biggest impact will be in the marketing organization because chief marketing officers are now managing as much technology as chief technology officers. What’s more, chief marketing officers need to adjust the way that marketing is done to reflect changes in development.
My thesis implies that marketers are going to continue to experience a lot of change in the coming years. Change –like writing a book- is scary. The marketing technology industry is going through a tremendous cycle of innovation. New marketing technologies have provided unprecedented business value based on deeper insights into customer behavior, but the speed and volume of innovation has also spawned new problems: data fragmentation, platform/product overlap, integration overhead, as well as challenges to traditional organizational norms and management structures.
But I also want to acknowledge strategies for mitigating risk and the scariness of change because that’s precisely what Agile is good for. Agile is considered an “adaptive” approach because it’s designed to accept and respond to change. Agile is an alternative to “predictive” methods like Waterfall that are designed for situations that are well understood and … well, predictable (e.g. not what we’re facing as marketers today). So I’ve chosen to write my book in an Agile fashion. That means, that I started with a prototype of the book (aka a very rough draft or sketch) which I shared with a small group of marketers, most of whom were focused on a specific chapter or topic. I got a TON of immediate feedback, which I used to iterate on each chapter for a couple of months till I had version 2 of the book. I then took that version and started working with a professional editor who looked at the book more holistically and informed me that I was about to have a lot less time in my evening and weekends to play. Once I’m done working with her I’ll have version 3.
Following this, I plan to release the book to a larger group of marketers for feedback. And, in parallel, I’ve started publishing blog posts and articles that test the content with an even broader market (e.g. a Forbes piece How Customer-Centric Tech Is Revolutionizing C-Suite Relationships). With this round of feedback I hope to get to version 3. Along the way I’ve had lots of little failures and successes that are mitigating the risk of a BIG failure. The book has also gone in directions that I could not have initially anticipated. In fact, that last part of the book did not come into focus until just recently.
When I finally get to the stage of publishing the book I hope to have a crowd of folks who have contributed to it’s success and who will help advocate for it upon release. If I’ve successfully incorporated their feedback they will have a sense of ownership in the project.
Even with all this input, reflection, and iteration there are bold statements in this book that will likely be wrong. But to make a book like this compelling you have to be willing to make some bold claims and to be wrong. So you can’t eliminate risk entirely. Then again, being wrong generally helps identify what’s right to include in the next iteration. Thus one of the principles of the Agile Marketing Manifesto reads “Don’t be afraid to fail; just don’t fail the same way twice”.
If you’re interested in participating in the “beta” release of the book please shoot me a note on twitter @rsmartly.
You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged here in a while that’s partly because I’ve been writing for other publications lately. Here are some links to that content:
In this post I write about how the buyer’s journey is evolving to accept more and more influence from practitioners.
In this post I share some thoughts on what makes marketers successful and some key traits to look for when you’re building a team.
The title pretty much sums it up, these are three things that I practice and practice and practice.
Remote working is a trending topic with Google Founders talking about how it will end the 40-hour work week, Marissa Mayer’s no work-from-home edict, and Tony Shae’s focus on increasing collisions by having workers live/work in a company community. I think remote working presents a huge opportunity for companies.
Caveat, this post focuses on work that does not require in-person collaboration as a necessity (e.g. home construction). Also, as context, I’ve managed remote workers for many years and I’ve experienced a proliferation of tools coming to market to help facilitate this practice. I currently work at Oracle where more than half my team is remote and where I work remotely quite often.
Working from home with 5-month old laptop-holder :-)
This post does not focus on how to manage remote teams rather it makes a case for how optimizing for remote work can be a competitive advantage. From where I stand (as a partial-remote worker) I see the biggest benefit as a quality of life improvement. As the father of a 5-month old, working from home allows me to have lunch with my little boy once in a while. That’s priceless. The benefit for my employer -or for any employer for that matter- is a bit more complicated.
Before spelling out this benefit, I’ll address a common fear that’s associated with remote work that should not be. It basically boils down to managers feeling like they cannot measure work product if the employee is not within sight. In my opinion this has absolutely nothing to do with remote workers. In my experience, I’ve seen non-remote workers squander time effortlessly while in the workplace (e.g. Facebook, shopping, etc). You’re deluding yourself if you think you can “see” work being done by watching workers.
Having a great system to measure productivity is a pre-requisite for management regardless of where workers are in my opinion. For my wife’s business, we use Asana to manage projects, productivity, and collaboration. I think it’s a great solution for supporting remote teams.
There are a couple of key benefits for the company including an increased pool of potential employees and the ability to acquire talent affordably. Though I don’t have great data to support this claim, My own experience is that I work a bit longer and with less interruptions when I’m at home. ConnectSolutions shares some data on this based on surveying. I’d also suggest that remote workers may be even more loyal due to the quality of life benefit. Either way, something’s working here because 40% more workers are doing so from home in the last 10 years.
On the topic of productivity, I have a nuanced perspective. I agree that when I’m at home working uninterrupted I get more of a certain type of work done. I’d suggest that this is most pronounced with work that I can do on my own (e.g. tasks I own, email correspondence, solo-creative work, etc). However, I think remote workers miss out on the most productive interactions with other workers that often occur spontaneously at the water cooler. This is what Tony Shae is optimizing for.
Companies can address this in-part by bringing employees together on a regular basis. At Oracle, my entire team comes together at least twice a year for highly productive “onsite” meetings. Even with the cost of travel this does not come close to offsetting the cost benefit of remote workers. Granted this will never produce the kind of gains as a system optimized for collisions but it will offset some of the gains. Companies that are optimized for remote work make up the difference by affording more workers on the same budget.
In conclusion, I think happy employees working within a disciplined system for measuring productivity can be a competitive advantage for many companies. I do think that it requires a unique approach to management and the application of solutions to manage productivity but more and more managers are gaining that experience today. I hope this is a useful framework for exploring if remote work is appropriate for your company.
I’m happy to report that I’ll be presenting a talk entitled “How Social Technologies Create New Languages” this year at SXSW. If you’re attending the event I hope you’ll join the session and share it with your friends. As the title suggests, the topic explores the idea that language and social technology are in a coevolutionary state. Many of the ideas I’ll be presenting are inspired by Evolutionary Linguistics or Psycholinguistics, a relatively new discipline within linguistics which is being championed by folks like Stephen Pinker. If you haven’t read The Language Instinct it’s a great introduction.
My presentation makes three basic claims that I’ll explore/defend:
- Social technology is a primary driver of language evolution.
- As social technology augments language, it becomes part of the language.
- As language and social technology coevolve expect more intermediation.
That last point, focuses on how social technology has the potential to surface insights in real-time that will affect how/when/what we communicate. Besides Evolutionary Linguistics the other major inspiration is work that companies like Oracle (where I work) are doing in the marketing automation space (via Eloqua and Responsys). Part of what I’m ultimately interested in exploring is what will happen when this technology becomes available via consumer applications.
I hope to see you there! Oh, and if you’re interested in getting a sense of the sessions that I’ll be attending while at SXSW here’s my schedule.