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Tap the Power of Your Viral Customers

Viral Customers are Your Brand Ambassadors

Viral Customers are Your Brand Ambassadors Whether you are aware of it or not, customers are talking about you this very minute. They are offering opinions, trading experiences, and influencing other customers about you—your company, products, services, and reputation.

Welcome to the world of the “viral customer,” the turbocharged version of the word-of-mouth customer. If you’re not aware of your company’s viral customers, you need to be. If you haven’t geared your company to their growing influence, you had better start now. These talkative, influential customers will play a critical role in the future of your marketing schemes, loyalty programs, customer service efforts, public relations outreach, brand management, privacy policies, and bottom line.

The Internet has created a generation of so-called “viral customers.” Viral customers can be champions or destroyers. They can talk trash about you or trumpet your worth. Which route they take depends on you.

  • If customers are happy with their encounters with you, they are likely to tell lots of their friends. In essence, they become viral ambassadors who will rave about your company to others to create a gush of goodwill. These ambassadors can be valuable, low-cost avenues for building existing relationships, recruiting new customers and keeping old customers happy for life.
  • But if customers are not satisfied, watch out. So-called “viral rebels” can destroy your products, brands, and reputation as they share negative experiences. Moreover, at the moment of negative feedback, they’re likely to be in a “switch mode,” ready to find someone else to satisfy them in ways that your company hasn’t or won’t.

Are you paying attention to what your own viral customers are saying and doing? We’ve found that some companies and industries are more “viral” than others. Customers are much more likely to pass along opinions to others about insurance firms, health maintenance companies, utilities, banks, long-distance and wireless telephone companies, mail delivery services, Internet service providers and auto manufacturers.

What’s at stake is more than the lifetime value of a single customer. Everyone in the viral rebel’s sphere of influence is also at stake, because even though the original customer may walk away from you, he or she is not necessarily finished. The bad-mouthing continues. Suddenly, one person’s negative encounter becomes everyone’s shared experience, and you’re left to pick up the pieces, re-establish ties, win confidence, and regain long-term loyalty.

Some Brands and Issues are More Viral Than Others

Some Brands and Issues are More Viral Than Others Certain brands elicit highly viral customer buzz. Billing issues typically fly off the virility chart. Other hot-button issues involve safety among automakers, baggage claim among airlines, customer service at e-commerce sites, hygiene at restaurants, and staff attitude at retail stores.

If you listen to your viral customers, you will know whether your marketing budget is based on the correct assumptions. You’ll be able to apply one-to-one marketing principles to customer feedback, making your customer insight even richer and more robust. You will know which brands are working. You’ll know your company customer service record, because you will have real-time feedback from the customers. You will identify trouble spots or opportunities well in advance, enabling you to take advantage of positive feedback or stop negative feedback before it explodes.

As you analyze the customer insight you receive, you become wiser and more adaptable, smarter and better able to react, respond, and retool. You start giving customers what they want—easy and convenient communication. They want to be heard. They want to help others, and they want a forum that fits their propensity to rant or rave.

In a world governed by customer insight, all feedback is gold and every complaint is a gift. Raw data guides us, but insight that has quality and meaning enlightens us. Anticipation beats perspiration, and the only way to know what is around the next bend is to pay attention to the curve as it develops.

Here’s five things you can do to tap the power of viral customers:

  • Identify them. Viral customers communicate with you frequently by e-mail, letter or phone. They send copies to others, are passionate or emotional about their experiences and are among the first to try new products or services.
  • Make communication easy. Offer as many ways as possible for customers to get in touch with you-a toll-free phone number, Web-site e-mail address, third-party feedback service, street address or special mailing address.
  • Respond quickly. Respond quickly and in the same fashion. Be empathetic.
  • Mine the negative comments. Respond decisively so that the customer decides to remain in your camp. Don’t give a reason to bolt to the competition.
  • Build the relationship. Add communicative customers to a preferred-customer list. Extend special offers, ask their input on new products and services, and ask how you can improve the relationship. The more you integrate the relationship, the stronger it will be.
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Posted in Business and Strategy Management and Leadership

How American Express Realizes the Enormous Opportunity of eService

The internet represents an enormous opportunity to transform and improve old businesses and engage in new ones.

American Express is constantly transforming its business, eventually putting American Express’s old products out of business with new product innovations. All of its Internet initiatives are designed to accelerate its business transformation by capitalizing on interactive capabilities.

The assets that have made American Express one of the leading global financial services companies are highly relevant on the Internet.

American Express eStrategy #1: Become or Remain a Leader in Online Payments American Express has one of the most recognized and respected brands in the world, representing security, integrity and trust. American Express has a large card member base with 50 million cards in force worldwide. It owns or manages nearly $300 billion of assets for its 2.3 million financial services customers. In addition, it transacts with millions of merchants in over 200 countries and territories. It has a broad and diverse product set catering to the financial and travel-related needs of its consumer, small business, and corporate customers.

American Express provides superior value and service to its customers, and runs first-class operations that are nimble enough to conceive and launch major products in Internet time. The Internet is an extension of its business, and American Express believes the “bricks and clicks” strategy will ultimately prevail. In fact, an increasing number of online-only players have recently announced the desire to acquire physical assets as their virtual business models have run their course.

American Express’s eStrategy consists of four parts.

American Express eStrategy #1: Become or Remain a Leader in Online Payments

Currently, of the $5 trillion in consumer payments in the U.S., only about 30 percent occurs on card-related payment products. In addition, of this $5 trillion, less than 1 percent is transacted online. However, as a greater share of spending moves online, most spending will occur on plastic or its electronic cousins as consumers and merchants look for standard ways to transact in a secure fashion. The three key drivers of success as an online payments provider will be merchant acceptance, authentication, and security.

  • On merchant acceptance, American Express has 97 percent coverage of the 100 top e-commerce sites, which accounts for approximately 70 percent of all online spending. In addition, of the top 500 sites, American Express has 95 percent coverage.
  • On authentication and security, American Express’s Online Fraud Protection Guarantee, Private Payment, and Online Wallet allow customers to shop in a secure fashion. Private Payments provides customers with choice and protection when shopping online. Online Wallet offers one-click order fulfillment and form-fill capability that allows users to automatically and securely checkout virtually anywhere on the Internet. The Blue smart chip offers an extra layer of authentication and protection.

As corporations move their purchasing to dynamic online exchanges, they have a need for payment, financing, trust facilitation, and risk management products to support these transactions. American Express is positioning itself to support these types of transactions.

American Express eStrategy #2: Become a Preferred Ecommerce Destination

American Express eStrategy #2: Become a Preferred Ecommerce Destination Becoming a preferred destination for American Express’s current and potential customers who are looking for content, products, and services across financial services, lifestyle, and travel. AmericanExpress.com is the nexus for all of its product and service offerings. This website receives over two million visitors a month.

Many of the products it is developing—such as Membership B@nking and its Online Brokerage—require new skills and capabilities. To succeed, American Express has focused on simple product functionality with differentiating value propositions, all introduced in Internet time. American Express’s Membership B@nking offering includes no-fee interest checking and account access through the American Express ATM network, the second largest in the U.S. And American Express Brokerage offers free online trading for accounts over $100,000.

Despite American Express’s relatively light marketing efforts, response to these offerings has been extremely positive. This popularity attests to the power that an established physical world company can wield by extending the strength of its brand onto the Internet in a way that offers its customers something of value.

American Express has a comprehensive web offering. To simplify the interaction for customers, American Express gives them the flexibility to customize their on-line dealings with American Express through “My American Express.” It has also added Online Extras to The Offer Zone where customers can access savings with local restaurants, merchants, and online retailers.

Another feature is American Express Online Services, the common entry point to all of American Express’s card products and services. Upon authentication, Online Services allows customers to access their American Express accounts as well as special or new offers. Based on a customer’s preference, it can communicate offers, services, and information directly to the customer’s e-mail address.

Through the combination of American Express’s physical assets and web site, it can serve customers when, where and how they want. American Express is increasing share of wallet with customers and providing them with greater levels of service by broadening American Express’s relationships across multiple channels.

American Express eStrategy #3: Provide Online Service that American Express’s Customers Value

American Express eStrategy #4: Improve American Express's Operating Structures Provide online service that American Express’s customers value across all of its entire businesses and products. Online Services already has several servicing options including Bill presentment and bill payment, Membership Rewards account management and online redemptions, and online card applications. American Express also is continuing to develop its online services for merchant, small business, and corporate customers.

If a customer encounters a problem adding an additional card to their Online Services account, a pop-up button will appear that they can click on to reach a customer service representative in real-time to resolve the issue.

Another application, American Express @ Work, moves customer-servicing capabilities online. American Express’s goal is to make the interactive channel one of the preferred methods of servicing.

American Express eStrategy #4: Improve American Express’s Operating Structures

American Express eStrategy #3: Provide Online Service that American Express's Customers Value Use interactive capabilities to dramatically improve American Express’s operating structures through reengineering on the cost and revenue sides. American Express constantly reengineers its business activities to increase its value to American Express’s customers, employees, and shareholders and to develop new capabilities and products. Most of its online reengineering initiatives focus on using the Internet as an additional channel to conduct functions such as online account acquisition, program enrollments, order fulfillment, and targeted, customized marketing campaigns.

American Express’s eStrategy Integrates the Internet with Core Banking Operations

Going forward, American Express plans to use the Internet to change the way it interact with customers, which can have a substantial impact on its cost structure and business processes. American Express is moving to integrate the Internet more closely into its operations and redesign its processes to allow it to be more nimble and proactive in meeting the needs of its customers. Consumers today expect to pay less online for the same products and services they once received through physical channels. Reengineering enables American Express to adjust its cost structure to meet customers’ needs and ensure that they receive superior value.

Create and implement a plan to improve your eService. You might seek ways to use the internet to change how you interact with customers

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Posted in Investing and Finance Management and Leadership

The Future of Technology: What is your role to play?

The Future of Technology

For most of the past 20 years, many of us have read about the future for digital revolutionaries and listened to visionary presentations.

Frankly, many of us would be skeptical about what we were hearing. And it wasn’t for a lack of desire. All of us want to believe that the digital revolution is real, and we want to be inspired by its incredible promise. But, digital technology has failed in many cases to live up to the hype.

But, this year the revolution became real. Today, we are entering an era where every process—and all content—is becoming digital, mobile, and virtual.

Every time we walk into a Starbucks, hear a song on the sound system, pull out a laptop, and download it wirelessly—the digital revolution is more real. Every time we go to a wedding reception with a digital camera and a printer and shoot, edit, and print the images; and present the bride and groom with a photo album before we leave—the digital revolution is more real.

Today, photography is a digital, mobile, virtual process. You create digital content—a digital camera is a computer with a lens—and then you take that content and network it. You send it wirelessly, edit it, share it, and when you are ready, you print it. Every process is following this pattern: every physical, analog process will become digital, mobile, and virtual.

So in this revolution, what is your role? Our role is to drive that digital change, democratize technology, and empower digital revolutionaries. Enabling the digital revolution takes more than gizmos and gadgets. What matters now is making it all work together in a way that creates simple and enjoyable digital entertainment experiences at an affordable price. Too many products still don’t connect to one another; they don’t work easily together. Too few of us have access to broadband at home. Too many products still cost too much. Too much digital content is still being taken illegally, undermining business models and artistic integrity. Issues of cost, complexity, connectivity, and manageability still get in the way of simple, enjoyable experiences.

We’ve focused on devices that we hold in our hands or hang on our walls—not on the ecosystem. Trying to solve all challenges by focusing just on plasma screens or music players is like trying to tell the story of television by focusing on the TV set.

The real revolution is different, cutting far deeper and broader than simply the devices that fly out of stores. The true revolution is in the way that entertainment is created, distributed, managed, and consumed. It is around the experience, and making the whole system come together—a system that requires an entire network of players and partners, from service providers, to media companies, to content creators, to online services and more—and all those players working together to deliver the best experience. The entire entertainment process—whether it is music, movies, TV, or images—is becoming digital, mobile, and virtual.

The Digital Future

To tie everything together today in one system means many devices, miles of cable, half a dozen remotes, hundreds of pages to read in manuals, and even then, good luck getting it all to work right.

From the beginning, the ultimate promise of the digital revolution was always about putting more power in the hands of people—to allow all of us to do more, be more, and enjoy more in our daily lives. The digital revolution is not about cyberspace-cold, alien, and distant-it is about technology that is intimate, intuitive, and accessible where we want it to work, when we want it to work, and how we want it to work.

We are entering an era in which every consumer becomes the photographers, film producers, and deejays. We are all digital revolutionaries now.

But the future will not be made simply by the companies that put the coolest devices in people’s hands, or create the prettiest devices to hang on walls. The future will be made by companies that understand how to move content from creation, to distribution, to consumption; and understand what is required to hide complexity and deliver a great end-to-end consumer experience, and companies who have the partners to create and support the experiences you want.

We are on the verge of a digital entertainment future where every one of us has access to every song ever written, every movie ever filmed, every photograph ever shot—available any time and anywhere we want it, on any device that’s most convenient.

Revolutions have always been about giving power to the people—about people taking control and about the power of democracy. And the digital revolution is about the democratization of technology, and the experiences it makes possible—digital experiences that change lives and change the world.

We don’t know for sure where the next five years will take us. But we do know that revolutions are not made by doubters, cynics, and skeptics. Revolutions are made by people who believe that everything is possible.

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Posted in Business and Strategy Management and Leadership