10 New Examples of Smarter Customer Focus

So, it’s been a year since my original posting and I wanted to talk about who I thought was doing smart customer-focused things again – because it’s the most read post on my blog…(original post) – which I think means it’s most important to you.

I want to reiterate something I said in the original:  Focus on the “customer and the why” before the “what and the how.”  That being said…here is the 2010 list.  I have profiled some of these in the papers, but I thought for those who have not read them, this could be an interesting exploration.  Each of these companies is doing at least something smart.  I am not saying they are perfect, I am not saying I am validating their strategies.  I am saying there are at least 10 great easy-to learn lessons on the list.  If anyone works for any of these companies, I would love to hear from you.

1.  Chase/JP Morgan Chase (Financial Services) Chase made the list for two things – someone over there is definiteChase allows the community to decide where it givesly on the right track.  With Chase Community Giving, they used Facebook and voting to determine where to invest charitable dollars.  I am betting that this gave them a whole lot more positive impressions, and ENGAGEMENT than a traditional approach would have.    And as if one nice thing to say wasn’t enough, Chase also gave me a nice tangible example of Strategic Service that was not Mint.com or Wesabe…Chase launched a set of tools called Chase Blueprint that allows cardholders to set up split payments and better understand their financial situation.  Sure, the customer could have simply elected to review the bill and divvy up a large purchase over as many payments as he sees fit.  Now he doesn’t have to – within boundaries, Chase can bill the customer the way the customer wants for large purchases.  This reinforces the purchase, not the balance which seems to remain long after the statement line item is gone… 

2.  Turbo Tax (software) It’s spring, and my mind turns to daffodils, tulips and TAXES.  Ugh.  However, Turbotax- and their owner Intuit (who just acquired Mint.com, another smarter customer-focused move), delivers in many ways that are worthwhile.  First off, a Youtube Channel.  Anyone who has ever tried to read or search a tax code document for anything – and then understand it after the arduous search knows there had to be a better way.  But a video channel?  Yes, a Video channel.  And Community Service – where you can ask a question of the community about something you are trying to do or find, and people answer.  I know, I did my taxes with Turbo Tax so I could watch what people were asking and answering.

3.  Best Buy (retail) – why is Best Buy on the list? They are consummate testers and try-ers.  They go boldly where few brands have gone before.  Twelpforce, their Twitter community help is a great idea of matching customer needs to the sales people who WANT to answer them.  And yes, they got blasted about their Facebook bi-lingual question, but at least they tried.  Remember, not everything will go as you planned.  They kept going, and learned.  And the learning was worthwhile, if a little painful for a few days.   I give them high marks for asking the community.  You can’t control the response.  Just keep monitoring to take action.

4.  Tesco (retail) – like so many other people with an untreated retail addiction, I end up with a number of Loyalty cards in my wallet, and tags on my key ring.  I also carry my iPhone.  So, it was with surprise and delight that Tesco did what I have been asking US-based retailers for for 2 years.  They created a loyalty app for iPhone that means I can ditch the card.  The card can’t tell me offers or information on the way to the store.  But the app can.  It became an overnight sensation.  Kudos Tesco, first the product finder (nice try) and now the Loyalty app.

5.  Mini (automotive) – while Mini online allows you to dream about a cute little vehicle in 63 countries and myriad languages, it also allows you to build your own Mini with game-like interaction, outfitting the car to your whim.  There is not another auto manufacturer who lives and breathes the brand into their effort the way Mini does.  The language matches the brand tone.  The look, feel and interaction are harmoniously on-brand.   I have also seen (but do not know if they continue to provide) a new owner box that puts the Apple iPhone box to shame…anyone?  

6.  Duke Healthcare System(healthcare) – I had the privilege of hearing Asif Ahmad speak at an IBM event, and the story he told is worth retelling.  The focus on electronic patient records is only a small part of the solution.  Better smarter healthcare for every consumer must be enabled by better smarter hospitals, who can learn not from each patient but from aggregated learnings applied to the right patients.  When learning how to prevent falls in hospitals, you don’t need to try to protect each patient – you need to narrow the aperture to focus on patients who meet certain

The News I want, all in one place

preconditions…the answers are found in better analytics that enable deeper understanding, not just being smarter – but then doing something – acting smarter by informing the staff what and who to watch closely.

7.  Netvibes (online news aggregation) – Netvibes has something good going on.  Their smarter customer focus is around customization.  Widgets = enablement, however it’s magnificent depth and delivery that count here.  The picture is my customized netvibes dashboard for the daily news I see fit to read (or at least try to – some of what’s there is definitely aspirational).  However Netvibes doesn’t stop with the consumer, they have customized dashboards for business, medical,sustainability, green…they present what you need to know in a configurable fashion.  This is a great example of innovative market making.  They can gather the data of the most selected news widgets (and even bring that back to the news providers), can recommend additional content based on preferences, and I hope one day, take this view of what is interesting to me and create a segmentation model to sell that means tons more to me than saying I bought this product or that.  They know better than most what interests me at a higher level than any one provider would.  Alternately, they might be able to offer smaller content chunks or customized ones – like the top 10 book recommendations for me…

However, in thew path forward, we raise the issue of what this means to mainstream media – if I no longer need to visit these sites directly, any advertising you place there might be lost.  Marketers will need to find a better and more engaging way to get to me…

8.  RueLaLa (online retail) – Luxury goods seemed to suffer a great deal more in the downturn than other categories, but a new form of aggregators popped up to help clear inventories.  Offering short-turn sales of specific goods available on a members-only basis, RueLaLa and its ilk (Gilt.com, Hautelook.com, Ideeli.com and others) really began to thrive as as a way to get a deal – adding cash and cachet for the brand.  RueLaLa made this list because of its attention to detail and carry-through on their brand promise.  Their little notes and language expressed in how they package their items and communicate with their customers deserves to be emulated.  Sure, I shop them all, but RueLaLais a great customer experience.  Order something and find out.

Haiti thanks Zynga

9.  Zynga (online games- not gambling) I would love Zynga for their .org offering which rapidly rose up to help Haiti, no matter what.  However, its their business model that counts for getting customers to spend in the context of a *free* game.  They deserve a whole post unto their own.  They design engaging simple games – from planting and managing a farm(Farmville) to running a cafe (Cafeworld) to the King Daddy – Mafia Wars.  With 180mm players a month, their social gaming model has managed to get people to play and to pay – in small increments of both time and money.  The recruitment model for players focuses on one player joining and then inviting friends.   Players can do better by doing things in-game for and with their friends.  In Mafia Wars you are required to engage others in your nefarious activities.  In Farmville, you need others to help you build a barn.    If you want to “shortcut” your way forward, to say a larger farm  or a bigger house for your pet in Petville (a game one of my friends plays with her daughter – and teaches nice lessons on sharing and being clean), then you can invest 5 or 10 bucks and get a whole host of great things.  So whether you advance  through bringing them more players or by cash power-ups, the model is a compelling way to pay to play.

(Jnue 24 – New Business Week article on Zynga and social gaming here.)

I met with a water company in Australia and asked them to understand Fishville as a paradigm for sharing their efforts with customers.  Gaming is  a powerful tool, and one EVERY company and brand can find a niche and context for communication.  Stop thinking its about kids (I can show you pictures of my farm and the 15 other adults I connect to there…)

10.  Bailey’s – the Diageo Brand (alcoholic beverages) – they were an easy choice for this list because they do something simply brilliant.  AlmoBaileys is bilingualst every Facebook message that Baileys posts is bilingual.  I don’t even speak Spanish but one doesn’t have to be bi-lingual to get the point.

Additional props on offer:  Southwest – who let passengers rebook during the last round of US snowstorms.  This was not only great customer service and experience but an operational coup!  By announcing to customer that they could rebook due to weather far enough out for the customers to adjust plans, they not only engender customer good will (they didn’t cause the snow after all), they prevent hours of wasted airport time.  And I am big on reducing hours of wasted time.  No airport is a good airport in a delay.   They also reduce the systemic strain on contact centers for rebooking.  I love a situation where everyone compromises for good, and this was certainly one of them.

Toyota has also gotten a lot of bad press and is trying to mitigate it.  I think Toyota conversations is a step in the right direction.  After trying to keep the spin tightly focused on the *positive* if such a thing can exist, they are now being a little more direct and open with what they are featuring.  Bad news travels fast, and while they were late in responding, this is a pretty good response, all in all.

Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz


PS – All rights and trademarks are reserved by the brands, my opinions are mine and all the legalese that should be here.