Hi Rick, tell us about yourself, your background?
I’m a business owner, author, trainer, and consultant specializing in helping technology companies to deliver measurable business value to their customers. I most recently worked on developing and delivering a global customer success management certification program for Cisco Systems Inc. and the creation of the world’s only published framework for customer success management called the Practical CSM Framework.
I’m also the author of the book “Practical Customer Success Management: A best practice framework for rapid generation of customer success,” which was published in 2019 and attracted a five-star rating from Amazon.
Recently I was named one of SuccessCoaching’s Top 100 Customer Success Strategists in 2020 and one of SmartKarrot’s Top 50 Customer Success Influencers in 2021. Having delivered training and consultancy to many hundreds of businesses and thousands of technology professionals in over 30 countries across four continents, I’m currently based in Ireland’s rural west coast, where I live with my two dogs, Zeus and Teri.
Online commerce was booming in 2020, and so did consumer reviews. – How can brands better utilize this data to improve their customers’ experience?
It’s always a good thing to understand your customers better, and of course, one way to do so is to listen to their feedback, including watching or reading their online reviews of your products and services to learn more about what they think about them. In fact, why not try to make it easy for your customers to leave online reviews for your products and services?
For example, you could create a “Review our Products” section within a wider customer community platform that gave the consumer simple tools to upload or record their thoughts in a variety of formats. You could even create competitions or otherwise gamify and reward the leaving of online reviews. Effectively, by encouraging more of such behavior, you are opening wider this channel of information from consumer to company, and this can only be a good thing.
In terms of how the company better utilizes this information… well, I would say honesty and humility are key. When listening to the voice of the customer, it is easy to do so with a closed mind or with colored judgment. Being truly open to what the customer is saying can actually be harder than it sounds and may take practice to achieve.
Rick’s tips for personalization
What tips do you have for companies that want to improve their personalization strategies?
Get your customers involved in your design and development processes as much as you can and as early on in the processes as you can. Open up what you are doing, tell the world what you are up to, and invite comments, criticisms, and suggestions. Turn product development into a public-facing activity – even an “entertainment” if possible – and as much as possible provide access for consumers to try out your new ideas and provide their feedback as to what they like and what they don’t like as early on in the development cycle as possible.
By doing the above, you will begin to understand individual consumer needs and desires more deeply. This should give you more start points for thinking about personalization options. Essentially I guess what I am saying is not to just provide personalization options because it “sounds good.” Instead, go to the data you have been collecting and find real instances where different customers ask for different things with legitimate reasons behind those different requirements and build your personalization strategy around these things.
Do you think personalization and customer-centricity are going to become increasingly more relevant in the coming year? How so?
Yes. Principally, customers will continue to demand these things from us and choose to spend their money on those products that respond to their demands. Customers will walk away from vendors that do not provide them with the personalization they require or the customer-centricity they demand.
Social media pages have become crucial for companies in most industries, especially in eCommerce. What’s the most common mistake you see in a company’s social media strategy?
The biggest mistake I see from companies’ use of social media is when a company misunderstands the essential difference between social media versus other media and attempts to do marketing and selling as if it was just another platform. On social media, everyone has the complete choice over who they connect to and what they read, watch and listen to.
People do NOT come onto social media to be sold to or marketed at, and they will often react very negatively if they get a whiff of either. They are happy to be entertained, informed, and educated – so long as they see the value to themselves. But you do not have their permission to market or sell to them. Not on social media. That’s not what it’s for, and it’s not what THEY are there for. So, by all means, tell people if you launch a new product (information) and maybe even explain why (education), but do NOT try to sell that product to them. That’s a step too far.
Instead, do something different. For example, invite feedback on what they like or dislike about the new product, perhaps with a competition to win prizes attached to the survey somehow. Of course, once your social media reader reads about your survey and competition and perhaps chooses to visit your website to take part, now they have moved off the social media platform and onto your website. So you can now start marketing and selling to them.
What’s the most insightful book you read in 2020?
“Would You Do That To Your Mother” by Jeanne Bliss (who incidentally was kind enough to write the Foreword to my own book “Practical Customer Success Management”)? Jeanne’s book is full of common sense aphorisms that time and again show how the world of Customer Experience is (or should be) just like a well-regulated family, based upon strong ethical values and operated for the mutual benefit of all.
It looks like working from home is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future. How should Executives gear up to the changing times?
I have no crystal ball, but whatever industry I was in, what I would be doing right now is thinking very deeply about how my industry might fit into and play a part in a future that is a lot more virtual and digital than our past. If the answer to those thoughts is “very little,” it might be time to pivot. If the answer is more optimistic than that, then it may not hurt to start thinking about how you can best position your company and its capabilities to take advantage of whatever options might become available as we move into an increasingly digital and virtual world.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
At the end of the day, however good or bad the experience was, the most critical thing to make sure we get right is the customer’s outcome. So a “yes” to a question such as “Did our product help you to achieve your desired objectives?” is still to be even more important than a “yes” to a question such as “Did we provide an enjoyable experience for you?”. That’s not to say that other aspects of Customer Experience are not important, because patently it is. But the first and most essential part of CX is always CS – Customer Success. Get your CS right first; then, you have a strong foundation upon which to improve the remainder of your CX.