eCommerce Best Practices – Getting Great Reviews

Reviews are now a critical part of the shopping cycle. This is true not just for consumer electronics providers but for every part of the electronics value chain – from power and automation to service providers. As my colleague Shaji Thomas recently shared with me, 57% of the B2B buyers journey is complete before a buyer contacts a salesperson.  You need to help your prospects see the tremendous value you provide. As part of that process, your success is tied to having the powerful testimony of people who have used your product and their experiences with it.

As IBM clients, I know you deliver great products and services to your clients. So, how do you get your communities to act on your behalf in sharing what they know about you?

  1. You make it easy for them to write great reviews
  2. You make them feel good about doing so.

One of the single best examples I have found comes from another industry – travel.  I want to share with you how one company, TripAdvisor.com, helps me help their customers. In my role as an electronics industry expert, I travel a great deal. So, I have a lot of experience with what TripAdvisor.com offers – namely travel information and related services. I have ended up as an increasingly active member of their community. Why? They reward my status and have a simple yet complete reviewing experience. It’s no secret that Trip Advisor reviews are coveted.  Some hoteliers and restaurants even try to outsmart the system or offer free upgrades because their reviews are so important to travelers. (This has never happened to me and I would not let it change my review).

Here are a few things they do very well:

  • They reward me by making me feel good. They told me that 60 people have read my recent reviews. That alerts me that the reviews I provide are being read. When a reviewer knows their contributions are valued, it’s a reinforcement for the reviewer to provide good content
  • They share with me the amount of times my reviews have been helpful for those in the decision process
  • Then they put a “teaser” in – they tell me I can get to the next level of reviewer status in only two more reviews.

Trip advisor 1 sample

These pieces not only validate me, they encourage me toward continued participation. They make me actively want to advance my status. However rewarding the reviewer is only half the equation. They need to help me craft meaningful content in my reviews.

To do that, let’s review the second part – the components of a TripAvsor.com review. First thing – they thank me.  It’s a simple but powerful thing. Next, they associate a rating to each star, making it easy to set your benchmark.  They publish other recent reviews for you to contrast and compare with. They ask what kind of trip it was and when it was, so people can choose properties that make sense based on their particular circumstances. A family will likely have totally different needs than a business traveler and it makes it much easier to sort through the content.  The same is true for instance for someone buying a camera. An enthusiast will likely want different features than a novice. A company wanting a cloud computing solution might favor local support or deeper security. Be willing to get to the right dimensions for your users and shoppers.

tripadvisor2

Helping people slice and dice content means a better understanding for both the shopper and the site, so be sure to see what type of template options you have. Make sure you can differentiate.  Test what attributes are most meaningful to your customers.  You may want to explore different approaches for services than products.  It’s an area where customization here is rarely considered, but could be critically important to the best experience you can provide. Plus, the ability to choose a unique defining characteristic – in this case how to choose a good room – that provides additional interest.  Be sure to helptripadvisor3

Help your purchasers become community members and help them bring others to you with great reviews.  It’s not difficult but it is important and should not be overlooked.  –c-

Your Next Gen Business Model

(Cross post from IBM.com, my primary outlet for new thinking)

If you believe Kickstarter and Indiegogo, you’d say setting up new business models is so easy anyone can do it. Yet, if you talk to the people who have done it, you’ll know that is hardly the case. In fact, it’s so challenging that most people stop before looking at all the opportunities. It’s tiring. It’s scary. For most people, it’s brand new territory.

To begin, you have to understand the new information environment, and the relationships between the capabilities. (See for example, Digital transformation: Creating new business models where digital meets physical from IBM’s Institute for Business Value ). Apps and sensors are everywhere — creating, analyzing and delivering data that flows across smart, connected devices. This is an environment where consumers are empowered through radically simple software interfaces, where interactions take place under auspices of  evolving business ecosystems that may be closed, open, or somewhere in between.

A quick level set on the changes driving change

the new business model approach

  • the app economy
  • radical simplicity in participation
  • easily assembled ecosystems
  • data data everywhere
  • sensors
  • interactivity

The app economy – or what will eventually become known as the software defined model – refers to the fact that we are now insanely used to consuming anything in small chunks of functionality that meet our business needs for a point in time.  These apps utilize functionality available to them through sensors.   They generate and leverage the data all around them.  They are gateways to the actions and experiences we want to have.

Sensors are the endpoints that we connect to and from seamlessly. Most of the time, they are invisible to us – despite their incredible power – because they simply work to trigger, detect or enable some activity.

Interactivity represents the way we use our devices with other devices across the sensor-driven world to create an experience.  The ability to interact can be tightly or loosely controlled by the sensor owners, depending on the operating systems to which they are tied.

Radically simple participation refers to the way the first three areas come to be.  As more and more open source software and design standards have been made available to developers, anyone who can code can participate.  And “code” might be the wrong word – because simple translations exist to allow the “non-coder” to create and publish (consider WordPress or eBay – where you can participate with little to no tech savvy).

Data, Data Everywhere presents the new world in which we live.  We are surrounded by data that we generate in nearly endless streams of interaction.  Yet, this data is what provides the “dumb” sensors to become smart.  They contextualize the interactions and enrich the experience.  When those two things happen, we have insight.

Ecosystems define and govern the relationships across these components. They represent the participants and the style of interactions possible. While ecosystems were once almost exclusively closed – you had to be invited in and operate by the rules of the owner – new models are the exact opposite.  Either model can work – and work well. There are continuums of ecosystems – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Tizen and a host of emerging ecosystems defined by the likes of IBM, Siemens, Cisco, Philips and others. The ecosystem allows the players to know the rules of the game and broker the economics, among other things.

New models are still a small fraction of the potential. You can now capture and resell the excess energy collected at your home. You can buy an entire operating room suite, if you’re a hospital. You can share cost effective wifi with strangers and be rewarded for it. (check out Solar City, Philips, Karma Hotspot). You can give a part of your service away and enable a smaller subsegment to pay for it (Google, Twitter, Facebook). The possibilities are in fact endless, especially as we consider the Internet of Things.

To create a new business model, you need to immerse yourself in the implications of today’s digital world. And then the real work begins: figuring out the best way to bring these capabilities to your customers.

Consider, for example, whether your customers want physical or digital products. Modes of consumption are fluid – you can buy a print copy of a single magazine, or a full subscription. You can buy a physical copy of an article or read it online with advertising embedded. Or, you  may be be able to read it online without advertising.

Choices for consumers are proliferating. Easy access to quick convenient car rentals, e.g. Zip cars, makes ownership just one choice among many for some urban drivers. Even cellular devices are expanding into new models beyond the traditional two-year contract — T-Mobile offers perpetual upgrade and Samsung an  Evolution Kit for Smart TV.

So, let’s look at a way to parse through the considerable questions on the route to determining potential models.  This a highly simplified value chain analysis allows you to ask questions along a continuum – what do customers need and, how will they use it?  What kind of problem do they have?  How many users will share a single item? Use this framework to walk your offering through multiple scenarios, and see who potential business models change configurations for specific populations..

Business Model Considerations

Now you can target what you are solving for: identifying and sizing the target populations.  It is important to ask yourself here to flip the obvious question on its head. The first thing you really want to know is “How big can this be?” It’s the first question your management will ask when they want to discuss your business case.  It’s a worthwhile question.  However, if you are really smart, you’ll consider the alternative first: “How small can it be to still make money?” It is easier to be disruptive on a small scale. It is easier to learn a lot. It is easier to solve the expansion challenge of a success than the scale-back challenge of a flawed launch.

CristeneG@us.ibm.com   @Hermione1 on twitter   Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz on Linked In

 

Marketing Alert: Fundamental Market Shift (stop ignoring user content)

It’s unimaginable, seriously confounding how the Carly Rae Jepson song has generated so much interest.  It’s a cute catchy song.  And yes, Justin Beiber started it.  However, that does not account for what’s happened.  The meme-ability of the song relies on the fact it is not deep content.  It’s really actually quite simple.  The ability for it to be easily picked up and transformed – and that someone didn’t get stupid about preventing copies is the real deal.  When you spend a ton of time trying to prevent copying, you actually drive people AWAY FROM not CLOSER TO your content.

The whole meme concept is a mass capturing people’s attention in the stream economy with microcontent … according to social guru Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) (2 min video).  But it’s actually more than that.  It’s not just sharing it.  It’s making it your own and then sharing it.

To whit let’s just review a few of the more notable entries in the content transformation game for Carly’s song…

Music: Justin Beiber and team has 47mm views.  Katy Perry and friends are in on the game with another 3mm.  (what would happen if Lady Gaga did one, I can only imagine).  Sports teams: The US Swim team’s adorable version has 3mm – in a week.  It didn’t blow up the charts like Harvard Baseball‘s version with 15mm views, which landed them on Good Morning America with this version from SMU Women’s Rowing (which got left in the dust with .875mm).  What’s equally amazing is the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders – less than million for them.  It misses the mark – it’s simply not as engaging as the other versions.   The military:  Here’s the US Marine Corps take with nearly a million views.  Actual spoofs:  the Barack Obama dubbed version has 22mm views. Let’s not leave out the 3mm+ viewers of Call Me Gaybe.  This very odd Wassabi version has 18mm.  Of course, let us not forget Cookie Monster – not kidding.  It’s beyond cute.

But what this does is extend the 191mm who have seen the original video.  It has nearly 50% as much viewership in its consumer produced forms as the original.  Read that again please.  It has nearly 50% as much viewership in its consumer-produced forms as the original. That is the most fundamental shift in content.  Give it away and watch it reproduce like little energizer bunnies that keep going and going…

Simply put, you can’t seek to create this kind of content.  You need to ALLOW it to happen.  That means open public access.  It means keeping the attorneys from talking you out of it.  Allow people to have fun with your content and you create engagement.  And that in turn creates virality.  It’s not the other way.  It will be sad when this song heads in that direction, and it inevitably will.  It will jump the shark when it starts showing up in commercials as a spoof – and it is not likely to be funny then, just sad and artificial.  (Marketers, don’t let your agency talk you into it.  Don’t recommend it.  Don’t even go there.  It will be inorganic.)

Now back to your regularly scheduled marketing programs.  -c-

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

cjgw

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

10 examples of smarter customer focus

(Please also see the 2010 version here)  and the start of the 2011 versions here (which goes by industry)

People often ask me about who I think is doing interesting things with web 2.0 and what social tools they should use.  And I gently try to tell them it’s the wrong question.  Focus on the “customer and the why” before the “what and the how.”  I recently created a list of companies doing “who and why” right for public presentation and thought you, dear reader, might be interested.

I used a mechanism Steve LaValle and I put together to test the list:  SHARE

– Simple (as in free of any jargon and written in customer language)

– Helpful (address the individual’s needs)

– Alternatives (provide options)

– That are Reliable (consistent across many channels)

– And Easy to use (some truths remain self evident…)

10 companies in no particular order. ..Please remember, this is an opinion piece, folks, just remember that I chose them and the context to display them.  I did not choose Apple and Nike.  These two well-chronicled companies are the embodiment of design-centered thinking but I wanted to see if some new examples could be helpful.

1. Maghound.com* redesigns the publishing model.  They offer hundreds of magazines, in any frequency, modify as you go, billed once monthly to your credit card in an easy to use interface via one bill.  I’m a customer, I’m an advocate. Business model innovation to enable better customer experiences is not cost-prohibitive.  It’s actually the most cost-effective way to deliver great customer interactions.

2. Rouxbe.com is technically a site for people who want to prepare great meals and love food.  However that is not its beauty.  They use video better than just about anyone else out there.  Their detours provide the right amount of education without overkill – such as selecting and cleaning morels (a type of mushroom).  It is a beautiful well-thought out approach to cooking that brings your laptop or iPhone into the kitchen.  Their blog on rewriting a recipe – actively moderated by the founders – engages the community to improve not just the recipe, but educating Rouxbe on where people are interested and what they are looking for.  Fabulously smart, elegant.

3. Amazon.com is perhaps the most crowded UI on the planet.  However, no one has done more to bring the power of the community into the grand bazaar of retailing.  The first to bring recommendations actively into site, they also brought “review helpfulness.”  They display not just the ratings but the distribution of them.  They tell you what people did with the information as well – did they purchase the item or view other items?  They try, pilot and rollout new ways to engage, often elevating the experience in ways that benefit us all.

4. QVC* is a global multi-channel retailer with more customer advocates than most any other company I have seen.   Actively integrating the best of retailing into their onsite experience, leveraging their television content, actively using video how-to, testing mobile and interactive TV (UK), providing communities and expert advice – they are fundamentally harnessing multi-channel better than anyone else.  QVC works hard to ensure their challenges do not ever affect their customers who shop with a frequency other retailers only dream about.  I love that they decided it was more important to test mobile than worry about doing it all at once.  Kudos to you for starting – since that is half the battle.

5. IBM.com* is completely transforming itself.  With a stated goal to “knit together the places (intranet, ibm.com, and the Internet) in which employees currently collaborate,” our company is evolving both on and off-the-site strategies to develop sharing approaches for employee information that clients and visitors can access.  This includes file sharing, presence, location awareness and authoring. The evolution is designed to include Alumni, Partners, Clients and Prospects to engage with employees.

6. Facebook allows brands to interact with people differently.  The concept of being a “fan” puts the brand in the context of the individual (using Diageo’s Baileys brand as my example), not the other way around.  The rapid rise of user-generated and user-controlled content means that your site is probably not on an individual’s list of places to go first.  And Facebook’s willingness to allow brands to become part of an individual, instead of the other way around is the right approach.

7. That being said, if you are going to aggregate content in a way viewers want to use it, you might as well echo Yahoo. The ability to place what I want on my page – whether that’s basketball highlights, new movie releases, shopping, news headlines and email in an “above the fold” view, means that they are still the number 1 site.  Fidelity is headed in this direction for financial news.  I applaud their efforts.

8. Progressive Insurance has long been a game changer, and seems to have recently said to themselves:  how do people really want to purchase auto insurance?  People start from something they really understand, namely the price. Progressive retooled their approach to start from there.  Designing from the customer perspective sometimes means reconfiguring your approach, not launching 62 new products.  Nicely done!

9. Harley Davidson* After embracing the 1% of the population that make the brand iconic, they have never looked back.  Harley’s website builds communities, echoing their brand in real life.  Their website is about – experience, click on the tab and open a new world.  Their trip planner leverages great partnering with Sunoco and Best Western.  The mashup allows the rider to design the ride.  Their communities allow people to do just about anything they may desire – from learning to ride, showing off your bike, finding a riding buddy, getting gear.  You don’t so much buy a bike, you join a community that lives to ride. Bravo, Harley, Bravo!

10. Google – can we really do this list without them?  No, I guess not.  No one has changed the paradigm of turning data to dollars better than Google.  Google, IMHO, doesn’t try to understand why a site is better, it simply tells you a list of places that seem to make sense based on the few parameters you give it.  It then goes further to offer you information that makes sense to you, where and when you want to put it. No one has done a better job, in the overall sense, allowing the customer to select what he wants to know, where and when he wants to know it.

Using big, dirty, noisy disparate data is a paradigm shift.  Creating smarter ways to leverage and monetize data  – such as Amazon and Google and QVC – means empowering semantic engines, ontologies and emerging analytical approaches.  This requires new means of processing so much different than today, such as cloud computing which can deliver the power needed to process it all.  The simple amount of data – let alone how a company turns it into insight and applies it to the business and the customers to use it – tells us we need to change, now.

IBM’s new partnership with Google to improve real-time value of personal health records – built on open standards and allowing devices to report monitoring and screening activity to a place of the patient’s choosing and then with whom the patient chooses – such as physicians, dieticians, caregivers – provides the power to improve health by harnessing data. (WOW, I really should rewrite that sentence, huh? It’s big and noisy itself) However all of this data is likely to be very different from each other – blood pressure might not look the same as weight or caloric intake. Reconciling these is powerful for the individual – and those who act on his behalf.

(Please also see the 2010 version here)  and the start of the 2011 versions here (which goes by industry)

-c-

Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz

Items marked with * means that IBM has had some interaction with the company, and maybe with the project.  However, these were ones I had direct knowledge around our involvement.

 

 

The Freedom of Simple Speech and Customer Experienchttps://museandmaven.wordpress.com/e

I recently learned a lesson – okay – if the truth is told; the lesson has been a year in the making.  I’ve only recently accepted that I learned it and implemented it.

It is very easy to make things harder.  It is much harder to make things simple.  And, simply put, creating customer experiences is about making things simple.  Simple to find.  Simple to understand.  Simple to take action.  Simple to service.

A few examples of simplicity in action:

– Plain language in every customer interaction.  Personally, I think Fidelity does a really good job with this.  While we have all had to learn more financial terms than we ever wanted to lately, Fidelity generally focuses on putting interactions in terms that I can understand.  How many – let’s say – health insurance companies can say they do that?  So, you have a meaningless procedure code (am I really supposed to know what 896-A is?) which you have to try to reference to a payment code…and then another code about why they paid what they paid, and often you don’t know what you are supposed to pay until you get a bill from the doctor – because at least that will be a little bit closer to plain English.  I also saw a side-by-side comparison of Southwest Airline’s cancellation policy versus United Airlines.   I am happy to report that apparently United must have seen it too.  Because in checking the website, I found:

Non-refundable fare: Subject to rules of the fare. Call United Reservations to change. Please note: Some fares cannot be changed, some you can only buy up on, some have a change fee of anywhere from $150 – $250 and then may only allow exchange before travel has started or sometimes only after travel has started.
– Refundable Fare: Subject to rules of the fare. Call United Reservations to change. Please note: For the most part, these fares can be exchanged without penalty and are only subject to any possible fare difference.

Not perfect, but MUCH better.  Nice job guys.

Guided solutions versus faceted website navigation. I don’t mean to point out the obvious here, but faceted navigation is a bunch of features that we as marketing, sales and service professionals use.  While some features are intuitive, and make sense to a vast majority of people, some do not.

So, let’s say I go to www.bigbox.com, among the larger sellers of TVs in the US, to seek a TV for my boyfriend for Christmas.  His technology is so 1996, but in truth, it’s been a lot of years since I have purchased a TV myself.  And I see 4 categories to choose from.  Three of them I understand:  screen size, price and brand.  The fourth one, though, is “type.”  This implies I know the difference between an LCD and Plasma.  I think I recall that TV’s had tubes in the distant past.  However, if I keep scrolling down, and don’t let my frustration overwhelm me, I would find the TV Advisor.  Now this handy tool asks me what’s important to me.  Screen size selections – and then it goes on to ask me about HD (where is the button I can click to make sure I know what HD does and what its benefits are?…I soon realize that this is just faceted nav with a slightly different display) Dear retailer:  Please guide me to a set of 3-4 choices that allow me to make a decision, or I will elect not to make one.

Note to cellular providers – please ask me how I want to use my phone entirely and stop trying to sell me the device you put on promotion to your sales people.  When people get value – extreme value – from a device, loyalty skyrockets, as does consumer word of mouth about the device and the service provider.

Easy and complete comparisons of items. This is a biggie for me.  So, let’s say I am trying to pick, a new pair of shoes.  Those of you who know me know I have a thing for shoes…Let us say I want to put three pairs next to each other on a website and select among them based on their attributes and attractiveness.  Please let me.  Please.  In a tight economic market where I can only buy one pair at a time (maybe one pair a month), I want to be able to compare three and actually purchase one.   If you think about it, this is often what happens when you go to, for instance, Nordstrom, where they bring you the one you asked for and one or two others that are similar.  The ability to compare and contrast then select is as relevant in the web world as the store setting.

– Offers. Odds are we will see more offers than less in the current financial environment and with the arriving holidays.  If you are sending offers to your customers, don’t make them work to find them.  Allow them to select and apply them very easily, and see the potential savings of one offer versus another based on their basket.

– Streamlined checkout methods. If I do business with you, why does it take 5 steps to check out?  Present me one page with all my normal options for confirmations and let me be on my way.  One page.  I am smart woman, I can handle it.  Your customers are smart people, they can do it too.

– Free returns, with easy to report and print labels. Not every item works out.  Remove the doubt and engender loyalty, please.  People will be more willing to risk their shopping dollars with a company who makes it easy.

These are not, I am sure you would agree, rocket science.  But they bear repeating.  Simplify life for your customers and they will increase the number of chances they give you to keep their business.  Hey, you might even create some advocates for your brand at the same time.

So, for those who taught me the lesson – Michael Snodgrass (getting the jargon out), Adam Cutler (making the experience worth it), Dan Latimore (forcing me to actually implement it), I am grateful.   -c-