Hi Jenn, tell us about yourself and your background
I’m Jenn McMillen and the founder of Incendio, where my specialty is increasing topline revenue by building and fixing customer programs. I am a nationally known loyalty & CRM expert, recognized most often for creating GameStop’s PowerUp Rewards, which has more than 35-million members. I built the program and launched it, changing GameStop’s entire marketing strategy and creating a multi-million-dollar revenue stream. I belong to more than 100 loyalty programs and I’ve been working in this space for 25+ years, but I’m incredibly fun at a dinner party.
I started Incendio 6 years ago to be the company I couldn’t find when I was on the client side. We are smart thinkers, quick and nimble, and technology agnostic. We specialize in customer-facing initiatives, whether it’s marketing or technology. Our entire strategy team has been high up on the client side, so we’ve felt the pain of those roles, which makes us better partners to our clients.
What is the biggest misunderstanding about customer experience, in your opinion?
I think some people look at customer experience as a singular event or point in time, asking questions such as, “What’s our store experience?” and focusing only on that. Customer experience starts even before someone has visited a property, digitally or physically. If you were asked which companies treat their customers exceptionally, I’m sure you’d have your own examples. But that’s the power of thinking holistically. As anyone in retail will tell you, every company has bad apple stores, so if the rest of the experience is well thought-through and customer-centric, maybe there’s a little room in there for forgiveness when the experience falls short of expectations.
What are some of the newer CX companies/solutions you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
Since we do so much work in the CRM and loyalty space, we are always watching the marketing cloud technologies that are using AI and machine learning. We just saw a demo from a new player in the US space, Capillary, that has incorporated a CDP inside their loyalty platform, plus modeling and AI into it as well, so it’s very seamless. In “the old days,” our analytics team would take months to build a Next Best Step or Purchase Propensity model, then our strategists would need to determine what to do with the results as part of the customer journey, but now it’s seamless. It’s kind of amazing to see how the platforms available today are intelligently using data and real-time engines to personalize the entire consumer journey from consideration to purchase to lifetime loyalty.
Jenn’s tips for improved customer loyalty
What can companies do to improve customer loyalty and retention?
What a loaded question! It starts with collecting zero- and first-party data to lay the foundation of personalization and relevancy. That’s table stakes these days and the contract every company needs to make with its constituents. With the avalanche of marketing messages thrown at all of us daily, the good things that stand out are the 1:1, tailored messages. Yes, I just bought a new car. Tell me about Teflon coating, fancy cup holders for my phone or extended warranties, not how awesome your other models are. I just bought a pair of navy blue chinos. Show me tops or jewelry or shoes that coordinate with my pantalones, so I look fly post-COVID!
But if data is step one, then overlaying customer lifetime value (or even current value via a tiered loyalty structure, for example) on top of benefits, rewards and promotions is step two. If I am a top customer of yours (hello, Sephora, I’m looking at you), then show me the customer love with a birthday gift that’s better than my friend who shops Ulta more than you. When I’m doing the things you ask in your loyalty program, then make sure I know that there are special rewards just for me as a better-than-bottom member. In the simplest form of loyalty math, give 3% in rewards to your low-value members, 4% in rewards to your mid-value folks, and 5% or better to the high fliers. It’s a quid pro quo. I show you the love, then you show me the love. The more, the merrier.
What do you think is most relevant and why: CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score), NPS (Net Promoter Score), or CES (Customer Effort Score)?
While CES has its charms, I think NPS still rules the day. Why? CES is all about, naturally, effort. How hard is it to do business with you? While that score is worthy, there are some companies that you are forced to do business with, whether you want to or not, because that’s the only option. Think Department of Motor Vehicles. So CES may not be representative.
What NPS does, though, is force a customer to answer the question: would I recommend your company or services? This is like giving a back-channel professional reference, which I’m sure everyone has gotten a LinkedIn reach-out from their network….Hey, I see you worked with Jenn before. Would you recommend her? In this moment, your personal bona fides are on the line. Would you recommend a poor-performing past colleague and have a bad hire potentially tarnish your relationship with the questioner? Probably not. So while filling out a NPS retail survey is not as fraught with potential relationship issues as a professional reference, it still begs the question, Would you stand behind this company with personal conviction? NPS FTW!
How can companies better use social media in the era of customer-centricity and personalization?
Think about what social media is good at. There are a few things! First, it’s great for product awareness. Case in point: your Facebook feed. Second, it’s good at getting community support for products. I like it; ergo, you should like it. Third -and my favorite- follower exclusives, promotions, and deals. If companies can personalize my home page experience, you’d think that social media would be better at this. It remains a mass channel, and I think that’s where it should stay for now unless the tools get better.
The great temptation with personalized social media is that it could easily tip over into Big Brother-esque messages. It’s already annoying enough to see that same pair of shoes you browsed at Zappos follow you everywhere on the internet; think about an AI-fueled personalization engine set loose on consumers. “Hello, Jenn. You looked at product B4725 linen t-shirt, size M, in navy, for 32 seconds, put it in your cart, then took it out after 16 seconds. Here’s a $3.17 coupon, that’s 10% off after applying your remaining gift card balance of $42.46, to purchase. Click here to use card -6434 to buy.” Too much! Too much! I exaggerate, but let’s talk about AI-fueled chat bots….
What is your opinion on AI-based chatbots to handle customer support?
Necessary evils that are here to stay, especially when companies don’t want to pay for human beings to answer phones. Chatbot = cheap. Person = expensive in that way of thinking. Customers aren’t stupid. They know when it’s not a real person, as the answers are often hilariously canned and out of context. I am always pleasantly surprised when a real person answers the phone (I love you, Lands End), takes the time to listen, and then helps you solve your issue. While I’m on my soapbox, one phrase I’d like to see banned from every AI interaction moving forward: “It’s my pleasure.” That belongs to the Ritz Carlton, and when Chick-Fil-A started using it, I feared the world was moving to a darker place. Now it belongs to the AI algorithm, a dark place indeed.
What was the best movie you saw that has come out during this past year?
Literally the only movie I saw in theaters in the last 12 months was Promising Young Woman, which was completely unsettling in that it’s a story about a woman who buries her own potential to exact revenge for a friend. Sometimes you just have to get uncomfortable to see the world in new ways, and this movie ticks that box.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
Repeat purchase. Hands down. It doesn’t matter if you’re willing to refer or what social listening says if your customers aren’t coming back.