Define: “Sender’s Remorse”

(Asking for a friend)

Of course, we all care how others are doing, but do we adapt our communications to effectively show it, or take action to help?  Content marketing tone-deafness seems rife these days. We see it in ill-timed marketing messages that bulldoze ahead without a pause, failing to consider the New Normal (illness, hardship, coping with change). We see it in new, well-meaning website banners expressing empathy, but whose placement or wording may appear like decal art, not resonant or reflective of any response or change in marketing, sales and service practices.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Need
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need (click to enlarge)

People are bouncing up and down all over the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid (see graphic) like never before: one day, on top of the world; next day, pinned under it. One reader summed it this way: “In November, we were all psyched about the top 2020 tech trends; yesterday I was psyched just to swap a loaf of bread for a bag of carrots”.

The New Business Opportunity: Listen

The new business opportunity is, in a word: Listen. Next: demonstrate by your own actions that you actually listened. Stop selling, start serving. Each individual customer and prospect is processing information differently. The famed buying funnel, which really always was more of a tornado anyway, is now spinning up – or down – a bit more frantically. Your challenge is to check in frequently to be sure you are doing what customers and buyers need which, incidentally, could also be just what you need too. The two are not mutually exclusive, but the timing is everything.

Here, in priority order, are some things we are doing in these New Normal times to help us avoid Sender’s Remorse, including client feedback and the results we are seeing.

Four Tactics to Avoid Sender’s Remorse

Here are some tactics to consider adopting, accompanied with a few stories about how we did it, and the results we saw.

1. Listen to what customers need urgently now.  Listening intently helps you lean away from the instinct to put messages out there, and lean more toward interpreting others’ needs.  This positions you better to offer solutions that your audiences will value under their circumstances.   For example, if you have a “sympathy” banner statement on your website, consider replacing those sincere words with a demonstration of sincere action. Maybe your customer needs to get fuller benefit from a purchase they already made. Help them do that. It’s part of your support arrangement, isn’t it? If not, make it so. Consider prioritizing the most relevant product / service categories. Give something away at first, so people can evaluate whether it fits their most pressing need. A “freemium” model might work here; just be in it for the long haul, and extend free trials beyond the customary 90 days, to accommodate the distraction and drawn-out decision processes that now typify buying decisions.

What we did: I sent a personal email to each key client executive expressing understanding with the current situation and offering to completely scrap, modify, or at least revisit our current projects and agreements, to change it up according to their most urgent needs.  Every single one of them emphatically stated they want to talk about continuing the relationship, happy to discuss any needed change. We were thus able to re-prioritize our work based on those client updates. Instead of sitting around wondering, our direct engagement has helped us confidently move forward productively.

2. Make things more convenient.  Improve access to your support and service. People are feeling abandoned enough; don’t add to the frustration. Be the oasis, be the rock. Listen and respond. Consider adding new or more convenient payment, delivery, service, redemption and return methods. Form new partnerships to support your efforts here.  Staff up your Chat bot hours.

What we did: Please skip to that answer under #3 below.

3. Educate or train for a small fee.  Everyone needs to learn new things to adapt to new realities. Is there some expertise or body of knowledge you possess that could be offered to clients, or the general public? Consider what you can offer that could also help people manage through rapid change.

What we did: Understanding the new Work from Home trend, we began doing free webconferencing user training for clients (Zoom, Webex, GoToMeeting, etc.), who enthusiastically accepted the offer. Two surprising results came our way. Firstly, we got better acquainted with more client-side Users who are newly working from home.  Their first-person feedback and dialogue really helped us to better understand the needs of that broader user group. Secondly, we were referred by some of our customers to other organizations to deliver the same videoconferencing training, and those new contacts are happily paying us to do it.  Result: we have a new service offering, and an easy and natural way to introduce to our other main product and services offerings.

How can you apply this? Maybe your graphic design, legal or product management skills would benefit your customers; offer to train them. Start an “each one teach one” trend. Give it a brand name and maybe a hashtag. Make it a new service.  Make it a new product category. Do what’s needed now.

4. Redefine loyalty. Get customer input to determine what values have changed, and how. Get ahead of the Next Normal: videoconferencing, e-commerce, sustainability, etc. Increased public interest and concern about these topics could be matched or mitigated by your knowledge, your content, and your approach to sharing it.

Watch out for “Tone-deaf” Humor.  Even professional humorists can get humor wrong. Consider maybe not leading with a joke that could be construed in bad taste which, of course, is highly subjective. To repeat Tactic #1 above: First, check in with people, listen, and gain some perspective. Only then can you determine what, if any, type of humor or irony may be appropriate and appreciated.

Avoiding Sender’s Remorse: the final edit step

If you’ve adopted the four steps above, you’ve probably gotten better acquainted with your clients. Next, start a content theme focused on client stories, with your client as the hero. Resist the temptation to sell, but by all means provide sidebar links to your own newly adapted products, services and support programs: free training, relaxed trial periods, whatever works for them and you, based on your new listening campaign.  Send a test email to your own internal review team, but consider including your client (story hero)on that test message too.  Make them part of your review process, even if only for a cursory “okay” response.  In addition to ensuring a more satisfactory result, you can give clients a more intimate glimpse and appreciation for the rigor of your effort to get things right. Oh, and incidentally, it also shows once again that your are demonstrating that you listened.

Over to You.

How are you adapting to the new normal? Are you now in closer contact with customers? What can you easily do to adapt and deliver on their needs? Love to hear your Comments and stories.

References and Resources

How Marketing Leaders Can Manage Coronavirus and Plan for the Future (McKinsey)

Content as a Service (nDash)

Show You Care How Audiences are Doing (Content Marketing Institute)  

The Bright Side of COVID-19: Seven Opportunities of the Current Pandemic  (Forbes) 

Remote Work: It’s a Thing Now

 

Remote Work: It’s a Thing Now

Here at FanFoundry we support multiple clients, each with their own “tech stack” of technologies and tools. This means we have become quite adept at working in multiple remote office environments, each with its own blend of talent,  process and technology.

What have we learned?  Lots. Here are a few considerations for helping remote workers succeed, followed by a few resource links. Enjoy!

Leadership Considerations

Working from Home Has its Drawbacks (Safety, Creativity)

As many organizations have discovered, remote work may seem financially wise, but its very remoteness highlights the often overlooked importance of a work team’s needs for “psychological safety“.  Similarly, the lack of interaction can dampen creativity. Creative sparks fly during playful banter. Creativity doesn’t happen on a schedule; it happens through random, free associations during human interaction. So, you can’t schedule a creativity session with a remote team.  This has implications for how each of us implements a remote work environment.

Scheduling Meetings
Moving your team meetings online often involves compromise. Routine office schedules may need to be adjusted to accommodate remote workers’ competing priorities: parenting and family roles, privacy, internet connection speed, other interruptions. Involve your entire team in discussing this, and be flexible.

Cadence of Contact
You may need to replace the office environment’s casual cross-talk and breakroom conversations with a more frequent, formal check-in schedule at first. Monthly meetings may have to be bolstered with weekly check-ins, for example. Over time, your team can discover and settle on a suitable cadence of meetings and check-ins. Be sensitive to people’s questions and needs at the outset, and involve everyone in decisions on any needed changes.

Consistency Has its Place
Consider, too, continuing some of your work environment’s customs, habits and benefits, such as observing breaks, office hours, holidays and lunch hours. Dining “al desko” is now tres passe.

Web Conferencing Etiquette

Not everyone is adept at online meetings. Help people get accustomed by practicing on yourselves. Do a few “dry runs” and embrace the humor of people talking over one another, accidentally interrupting, and being out of focus or backlit on camera. You will need to identify a resource person to help your team learn to fully use all the features of online conferencing tools, such as “raising your hand” when seeking to contribute to the discussion, versus talking over one another.  At the end of this article you’ll find a few recommended resources for further reading and ideas.

Office Tech: Get it Right and Tight

Selecting collaboration tools is now a priority. Prepare to experiment. Poll your team to see what they know and use now. Prepare to evaluate some tools that can greatly help collaboration, and possibly even improve on the current status.  Below we’ve listed some of the most popular conferencing tools.  More are coming online daily, it seems.

Email
Just…don’t. Don’t overload everyone’s inbox with a new email thread every day. Email is just about the least effective way for a team to collaborate. It’s at best a nuisance and at worst an exercise in futility.  All those forwards, reply-alls, nested comment threads, dropped attachments, etc. Instead, evaluate and select a robust, proven messaging platform. In addition to daily messaging, here are some other types of tools that can make working remotely a real boost for everyone.

CRM ROI: 6 Ways to Measure the Payoff

How do you know if your CRM investment is paying off? Whether you are currently enjoying a CRM system, or are thinking about investing in one, there are several ways to measure the impact on sales, customers and business operations. Maybe one or all of these measures is worth your consideration. If you haven’t yet done so, consider setting goals based on the desired benefits of your chosen CRM solution, then monitoring the impact over time, to get an idea of the time horizon and set your expectations on whether or when your CRM investment will eventually “pay off”. In our experience, it’s typically measured in months, not years.

1. Increased revenue

A well tuned CRM solution could help you increase the volume of qualified sales leads, which can enable you to increase sales. Connect your website’s leadgen forms, your social channel feeds and your website analytics and other data sources, so you can better identify ready buyers as well as potential future buyers, and serve up the type of nurturing each might require. Your CRM solution can also help you automate and accelerate responses in a content-relevant way. Today’s buyers expect a prompt, tailored response, as a gauge for deciding whether and where to buy. The impact of this Customer Experience factor is discussed in detail later.

2. Reduced Expenses

One byproduct of the improved lead qualification and improved follow-up involved in appropriately nurturing sales and future leads is that you can reduce wasted time and effort on low priority work, or on waiting for others to take action, or on the distraction of less important work. CRM helps you detect leaky business processes, fulfillment delays and other opportunities to speed up the business. Result: you can sell, serve and do more, without sacrificing quality.

3. Greater Efficiency

Is your CRM solution enabling you to get more done with less? Are Leads, Contacts and Clients receiving better self-service and faster response? Your CRM solution can be just the resource you need to help minimize errors, omissions and delays in getting the right response to the right person at the right time.

4. Happier People

Our motto: every user a power user. One of our clients completely transformed from being a notorious high-turnover operation into a talent magnet, simply by supporting their CRM users better. Today, there is no excuse for not tuning your CRM, training your people, and empowering them to make improvements to the CRM implementation so that everyone can benefit. Top talent today expects you to have a CRM solution in place, to help them be productive and demonstrate results. If you can’t do that, you face self-imposed headwinds in hiring, training and retaining talent.

A well tuned CRM can also help you stay focused on priorities, so you can better measure your own resource needs and plan to either hire, build or buy the resources to meet demand, and stimulate an increase in demand.

Morale is higher when your sales, service and marketing people can use CRM to alert one another to a customer need, then involve your best experts and resources in delivering the right response on the most appropriate channel, at the right time – without redundancy and guesswork. People who are effective in their work tend to be happier and more productive. So, use your CRM to set up some measures that help people find opportunities to deliver the best result.

5. Customer Experience (CX)

Much has been written about the Customer Experience as the competitive lever in building loyalty, referrals and repeat business. A well tuned CRM solution can help you anticipate and meet customer needs in two ways: overt needs (direct requests) and implied needs. Implied needs can be detected based on patterns of buyer behavior combined with rich data. In one client case, we found that buyers of product A were more likely to buy product B, but not product C; we helped the client tune the fulfillment process to automatically mention product B, and only mention product C if expressly requested. This help the client reduce the wasted time, expense and annoyance to buyers in inappropriately recommending product C, while improving follow-on sales of product B. Result: better customer retention, improved customer relations, happier staff, and more sales.

6. Loyalty

CRM can be the differentiator in helping you gain a deeper understanding of customers’ values, needs and priorities, so you can improve your dialogue with each customer based on a deeper understanding of that individual.  At one of our clients, some disparate departments were able to communicate better internally and coordinate to deliver the optimal result to a key customer. Where before some inbound inquiries from existing customers were being treated as unknown “first contact” conversations, the CRM helped improve visibility into the nature of each inquiry, by combining purchase records, IP address information, social signals and other data sources into a more comprehensive view of the inquiry and a more appropriate response.

A repeat customer does not usually with to be treated as a newbie, and a newbie probably shouldn’t receive a loyalty program until after the first purchase. CRM helps you straighten this out.

Over to You

What has your CRM implemention done for you lately? Have you set up measures to help you recognize the payoff? We’d love to hear about your experience and, of course, help you get those answers if you find them elusive. It’s all we do.

Contact us.

Take a CRM Needs Assessment

Additional Reading

Article: How Digital is Powering Growth in Key Account Management (McKinsey)

 

You Call That Artificial Intelligence?

While attending a recent Salesforce.com Basecamp for Customer Service Pros conference here, I was particularly taken by a keynoter’s observations on our collective progress toward incorporating AI into business software like CRM.

Later in the conference, while viewing some of the product demonstrations, wherever the word “AI” appeared onscreen, I or someone would poke their hand up to inquire; we were almost uniformly answered with some variant of “it’s coming”.

For all the hype around AI, the nearest we have come is in programming our systems to model best practice, then prompt users in performing patterned workflows that hew to that programmed best practice.  Call it computer-assisted pattern recognition, or Intelligent Automation.

This is not AI, but it’s a start. Using DARPA’s definitions of the Three Waves of AI, it appears many of us are still broadly in the early “First Wave of AI”, in which human-composed (hand-cobbled) workflow rules guide software users and customers through choice architectures with prescribed, rule-based workflow steps. We can perceive patterns, then use reasoned judgment to either follow the pattern or justify exceptions. If exceptions to policy or rules are frequent, then the policy is adjusted to reflect the pattern of practice, effectively updating policy to more closely match reality.  Policy and practice are close partners in the perpetual dance of future alignment toward more pervasive Intelligent Automation.  That’s the thing about a policy: its highest use is to justify exceptions.

AI Wave Number One: Handcrafted Knowledge

Calling it AI is, in my unvarnished humble opinion, a bit flamboyant. In truth, our “Artificial Intelligence” is stuck in the previous century, at DARPA’s “Wave Number One”, where a PC could recognize our basic input patterns (if x occurs, y is likely to follow), and reflect those patterns in tools like spellcheckers, autocorrect and autocomplete, aw well as templates and workflow systems, tuned over time by user experience. Recent advances in cheap storage and processing, distributed data and voracious coding have improved matters to where a user can create workflows in a codeless, drag and drop fashion. Twining together all those 7,000-plus pieces of commercial marketing software is everyone’s grail quest – and there’s even an app store for it. Hello, Zapier.

Today, our systems can support human ability to perceive and derive value by improving our reasoning and judgment, spotting trends, and drawing inferences based on historical or near-real-time data flows.  This is where the largest untapped opportunity looms for organizations to achieve savings through efficiency by tuning their tech stack in sales, marketing and service.  People and time do not scale, whereas a system can instantly scale to distribute workflows and data interpretation to any number of customer facing people, and even extend that capability into the hands of customers themselves.

Is your business technology supporting you in this way? If not, consider yourself a laggart in danger of losing big. Put simply, in life there are 3 types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what just happened.

Today, thanks to cheap computing, massive data “blooms”, and distributed networks, we can now amass, consume, configure and present interactive display reports on top of large datasets to help us understand it in self-driven configurable dashboards. Get some! (Shameless plug alert: FanFoundry can help).

AI Wave Number Two: Statistical Learning

What’s coming? Looking again at the DARPA definitions of the 3 Stages of AI, we can next expect to see engineers creating statistical models for specific problems and training systems to solve those problems, once again using big data as the source material for the training exercise. Even this stage, however, has its limits. For example: Showing a computer thousands of cat photos can eventually train it to recognize a cat with high accuracy – not flawlessly, but reasonably well. Consider, however, that a 3-year-old child can recognize a cat flawlessly after only meeting the family cat and the neighbor’s cat, and looking at a sketch drawing of a cat, and will point to the cat cartoon and say it’s a cat. Thanks, brain!

Computers, meanwhile, face challenges in recognizing a handwritten number 8. The myriad of writing styles, speeds and writing tools further confounds the problem.  This diversity of inputs and human approaches is the biggest challenge to UI developers.  Confusion over the validity of our databases is often caused by uncertainty about what the user intended to do or say when they input their data.

A slight 1% inaccuracy of input today can result in an outsized unreliable output. This is also the stuff of internet memes and fake news. Anybody can publish a single tweet to a vast global audience. The pace at which all that published-rubbish (“pubbish”?) speeds past us confounds our efforts to filter and validate truth. Our resulting, collective judgment errors can result in an outsize misinterpretation of fringe views as central guidance. Absent a moral compass, a distorted maniacal map could lead many, unaware, off an ethical cliff. Upshot: to trust your data, you need to regularly audit.  Shameless plug alert #2: Fan Foundry excels at this too.

Wave Number Two will take some time to get right. I’d give it a decade or two to reach prime time.

The Third Wave of AI: Contextual Adaptation

In this future (certainly not the present), systems can reliably explain real life phenomena. They can perceive, learn, reason and even abstract. They can predict success or failure. They can understand why or why not. They can know why you made a mistake, when to trust your judgment, and can guide you on that optimal path of interpretation and judgment.

The big challenge here is for us to surrender our trust to a cyborg partner. For now, though, it’s a bit out of reach. To quote the articulate supercomputer HAL from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey: “Sorry, Dave, I can’t let you do that.”  Codicil: “Not yet, anyway”.

What’s your Sales, Marketing and Service challenge?  Does it involve people, processes and technology?  Perhaps we can help.

Recommended reading

mAIcon 2019 keynote with Karen Hao: What is AI? (YouTube, 30:00)

DARPA Perspective on Artificial Intelligence

Article: The Sales and Marketing Alignment Conversation