Hi Steve, tell us about yourself and your background
After 16 years with New York’s digital creative agencies, I joined Amazon Advertising as its first NYC creative director in 2012, where my teams would deliver original brand experiences on behalf of hundreds of advertisers and millions of customers worldwide. In 2014 I became its first group creative director and, two years later, first executive creative director, moving to London to lead creative operations across Europe, Asia, and Canada. In 2016, I received the first Amazon Inventor Award granted to Advertising outside the US for patented innovation.
Informed by the world’s largest consumer dataset, my groups’ insights-driven campaigns drove engagement and sales for the world’s best-known brands and, in the process, helped lead Amazon’s rise to #3 in digital advertising.
During my career, I have been fortunate to direct talented agency teams handling the world’s best-known brands, including Mercedes-Benz, Gucci, Rolex, American Express, AT&T, and many more.
My book Brand Currency: A Former Amazon Exec on Money, Information, Loyalty, and Time takes the reader inside the company’s operating system to reveal how Amazon has come to dominate business sector after sector. It was a 2019 Amazon category best seller.
Today, I am a founding partner at KANE Creative Group LLC, the world’s first and only creative network founded by former Amazon Advertising creative leads.
My interests are international travel (sorely missed), golf, tennis, skiing, Ohio State Football, and collecting vinyl LPs.
What is the biggest misunderstanding about customer experience, in your opinion?
The majority of brand owners and advertisers I’ve worked with over the years have been trained to believe the primary objective of the customer experience is purchase. That old-guard thinking has always been wrong, but since digital has proliferated, the fallacy has been amplified a thousand fold. On the contrary, there are enterprises that are genuinely customer-obsessed, released from the twin burdens of the bottom line and shareholders, like Amazon. When I worked there, we called those revenue-first firms “Day 2 companies.” When you speak Amazonian, “Day 2” means you’re toast. Every day is Day 1 when it comes to the customer.
What are some of the newer CX companies/solutions you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
At Amazon, everyone is your customer – your boss, your team, the fulfillment center workers, your mom, customer service reps, someone buying swimming goggles on Prime, and so on. So when I field a question like this, I expand my consideration of “customer” to anyone consuming or spending money, information, loyalty, or time.
When I first visited Tokyo, I experienced one of the most elegant CX solutions imaginable. Throughout the subway system there, birdsong is played through speakers to guide the blind; recorded chirps from different birds can be heard to represent different train lines, exits, and entrances. I was blown away by the idea’s power, simplicity, and benevolence. It instantly transformed my view of CX in all its forms.
In my recent book Brand Currency, I explore the notion that artificial intelligence can dramatically improve all lives in an ambient manner (i.e., invisible within one’s surroundings), especially for those customers whose health and sensory conditions prevent them from fully leveraging their environments. One company in particular has recently blown me away: Envision. Their Smart Glasses use image recognition to instantly identify what’s physically in front of the user, allow loved ones (called “Envisioners”) to see through the camera lenses on their behalf and communicate, and scan and read text out loud, which in turn expands Envision’s global vision database through cloud-based AI. Tech like this enables a level of independence never even considered possible.
Steve’s tips for improved customer loyalty
What can companies do to improve customer loyalty and retention?
As I write in the book, companies must permanently place their own four currencies behind those of their customers to earn steadfast brand preference:
“In fact, they’re more than keys to brand success. Money, information, loyalty, and time are human truths, the ancient media of our existence, pillars of our species’ development, the legacies of our race. They are the fundamental inputs and outputs of the human condition. Living according to their rules is what separates us from other animals and what distinguishes great brands from the rest.”
We are subliminally drawn to companies that operate this way. It’s in our DNA.
5. What do you think is most relevant and why: CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score), NPS (Net Promoter Score), or CES (Customer Effort Score)?
I know I’m in the minority, but then again, so are customer-obsessed companies and people. Of the three, I like CES best. The four currencies are as follows—money, the most popular currency; information, the most powerful; loyalty, the multiplier; and time, the most valuable, as it’s the only finite currency. “Effort” is just another word for time, and when time-to-task is minimized on behalf of the customer, the product/service provider sees just how clearly their customer journey has been designed and received. Gartner told us last year that “96% of customers with a high-effort service interaction become more disloyal compared to just 9% who have a low-effort experience…” Saving a customer’s time (and effort), money, and information is the shortest path to loyalty.
How can companies better use social media in the era of customer-centricity and personalization?
Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCO) is a great start, but in the era of GDPR and CCPA, it’s getting tougher and tougher to react in real time to robust data signals for maximum relevance. In theory, DCO offers improved relevance for message delivery and A/B testing in real time. In practice, it requires a dedicated team of media practitioners, strategists, and creatives to make it work for the customer and drive any form of meaningful ROI. That’s expensive, so many companies just cut corners. They may as well donate their budgets altogether to charity and take the tax write-off.
The irony is that social marketing was supposed to be the answer to lost trust in traditional advertising. Today, it’s an intrusion when people just want to watch cat videos. Add to that the data/privacy security/fake news fail headlines social nets like Facebook have made, and it’s really, really hard to win in the social space.
My strong recommendation to clients is to flip whatever they’re spending on talking versus listening in social. Customers do not want to be interrupted when catching up on family and friends’ activities, but when you can mine sentiment across the social sphere—let’s say listening 75% of the time as opposed to 25%—every ensuing outreach or correspondence is that much more meaningful. So listen, listen, listen. It’s the only way to earn trust. And only then can your business earn quality transactions and, someday, loyalty.
What is your opinion on AI-based chatbots to handle customer support?
As a customer, bots have never once answered my question on the first try. In fact, maybe 10% of these experiences have ever even come close to assisting me at all. However, as a business owner, I get it: use technology to cut down on labor costs. That’s the definition of Day 2 thinking. We have a long, long way to go in this department.
And don’t get me started on bots that, upon submission of my query, send me to a search results page, which I could have done on my own without dashing my expectations the bot will actually work while wasting my time. The stream of curse words that follows is extensive.
However, I can imagine the right combination of AI and AX—Agent Experience—tools that enable machine learning and natural language queries to deliver the customer to the right human specialist quickly. And companies MUST treat these agents well because a customer can sense instantly when they’re communicating with a disgruntled low-wage person without the tools to succeed. Yes, it’s considerably more expensive. Know what’s even more costly? Going out of business. Brand owners: making a little less revenue in lieu of a better CX will move you from Day 2 to Day 1. Or else, nice knowing ya.
What was the best movie you saw that has come out during this past year?
Coded Bias. I know, I know. As someone from Big Tech, I guess I might have been expected to say that. But with as much as I researched the latest AI before writing my book—and in it, touch on the perils of bias, whether unintentional or intentional—even I was shocked at how rampantly its shortcomings have ruined real lives.
(Honorable mentions: One Night in Miami, Wolfwalkers)
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
Call me old-fashioned, but as a partner at KANE, writer, and former Amazonian, I find written customer reviews absolutely illuminating as a metric. They offer an invaluable, humanistic trove of customer sentiment beyond just the star ratings associated with them. At KANE, our system mines reviews to inform and augment keyword-laden copy to maximize live-text relevance for the customer as well as the Amazon algorithm. Be the Voice of the Customer to be the Choice of the Customer.