A Tale of Three Pubs – Customer Experience in a Culture of Assumption

An American walks into a English Pub wanting to order lunch….

It may sound like the beginning of a joke, but in fact last weekend it proved to be a good lesson in delivering customer experience. Let me explain.  In an online exchange a while back a friend of mine used the expression “a culture of assumption” when describing her frustrations at dealing with various levels of bureaucracy after relocating to another country. People just assumed that she knew which forms to fill in, or which agencies to contact. I can totally sympathize with that having gone through similar experiences when we relocated from the UK to the USA a couple of decades ago.

Last weekend we flew back to the UK for a family wedding and I noticed several examples of that “culture of assumption” on display – the written, and probably unacknowledged, concept that your customers just know how things are meant to work when dealing with your processes. From hotels, to paying for parking, to buying gas, to airline check-in procedures, there was an unstated expectation that we would just know where elevators were, where pay & display machines were located and how they worked, how to pay for gas at a pump that didn’t have a credit card reader, or which check-in line to stand in and where to drop off our bags.

So back to the pub…

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Over the weekend we went out for a pub-lunch with various family members on three occasions, all at different pubs. In each one we wanted drinks and a meal. After walking into the pub, we then had to figure out what to do next – and in each pub it was different.

  • Pub #1 – Find a table, note the table number, order drinks and food at the bar, open a tab on your credit card. Food is bought to the table. Return to the bar at the end of the meal to pay.
  • Pub #2 – Order drinks and food at the bar. Pre-pay. Get a number. Find a table. When the food is ready its taken to the bar. You go pick it up when your number is called.
  • Pub #3 – Order drinks at the bar. Let them know you are eating. Be escorted to a table in the “dining room.” A waitress takes your order and delivers the food. Return to the bar to pay at the end of your meal.

Three pubs, three different processes, three different experiences. All of them were good meals, and I wouldn’t want the pub experience to become a homogeneous standard, as it’s the differences that make the pub experience richer than the chain restaurant (especially in the UK) – BUT, none of the three pubs had anything posted to let you know how their individual lunch process worked. All it would take is a sign on or near the bar with a few steps explained.

Overall the inconsistency in ordering pub meals doesn’t seem like a big thing – but it got me thinking.

How easy is it for your customers to interact with your company / brand?

Do they have to know the way you work to achieve what they want, or do you make it easier with a guided customer experience?

Do you assume that just because you know how to do something, that your customers (or even other employees) will?

You Are Now A Media Company (If you’re not – you should be!)

I love podcasts. In fact I’d say I’m something of a podcast junkie. Each time I get in the car I listen to one, be it on my commute to the office, or a business trip. I listen to them on plane rides. And when I go for my evening walks in the park. Podcasts are easily the most updated audio app on my phone, as I download several new episodes of my favorite ones. As I write this I have twenty-two different podcast channels lined up each with new content waiting for me to listen to on a variety of subjects such as history, motor sports, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, movie reviews, creative writing, industry news, and Content Marketing.

My two favorite Content Marketing podcasts both come from my friends at the Content Marketing Institute; “Content Inc”. from Joe Pulizzi gives short (about 5 minutes) tips and ideas – just enough to spark some thought for the day; while “PNR: This Old Marketing” is a weekly hour long discussion between Joe and his CMI cohort, Robert Rose on the latest trends in Content Marketing. Both are highly recommended.

The fine folks at CMI also popped up on my Amazon Prime streaming feed at home with their just release documentary “The Story of Content.” The latest issue of their magazine CCO sits on my desk, and I follow CMI on Twitter each day. – In fact I’m something of a CMI brand advocate. They are one of the best models of how to build a business through content.

What makes CMI stand out is that while they are selling consulting, training, and events they don’t act like a traditional consulting house, instead they act like a media company. They use content to position themselves as industry thought leaders, and they tailor that content to the different channels they use to engage with their audience. (Note I said audience, not customers.)

For many years I’ve being delivering the message that all companies should think and act like publishers. Well that is no longer enough – You need to act like a media company.

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It isn’t enough to continue to just produce print-based collateral such as brochures and press releases and try and slice it and dice it to fit onto different digital platforms.

So how do you approach being a media company?

Take a look at this business plan by arguably the most successful media company on the planet.

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This was Disney in 1957 – almost 60 years ago – yet every channel was designed to use content to build the business.

Think about the following and apply it to your business.

  1. What’s the core activity that you want to build an audience for?
  2. What channels can drive that engagement?
  3. What value can each channel add?
  4. Who is the audience for that channel?
  5. What content type works best on that channel?
  6. How can we create the right content for that channel with connections that engages the audience enough to be drawn back to the core activity?
  7. How do we connect that content to present an overall brand experience and consistent story no matter which channel the audience engages with first?

Is B2B a Myth?

“Business-to-Business is a myth. Business is all about personal interactions.”

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A few words I added to a retweet of a CMO.com article that was headlined, “Don’t hide behind a logo. Companies need to be represented by real people.”

That editorial addition of mine generated some interesting responses, but most were along the lines of “B2B is about where the customer isn’t the end user, while in B2C they were the same.” These are reasonable definitions, but they don’t address the central point I was making that whether they are buying something on behalf of a business, or for your own use, the customer is still a living, breathing, person. ( I hope).

It doesn’t matter if you’re buying office supplies or companies, it comes down to personal relationships and experiences.

Earlier this week I was listening to a business podcast where they were discussing a multi-billion dollar acquisition. Among the usual factors such as a strong order book and good margins one of the top reasons given for the deal going ahead was that the prime investor “knew the CEO and the management team and how they operated.” – They had built a personal relationship that was driving perhaps the most quintessential of business-to-business transactions.

Running out for new pens for your small business, which office supply store will you go to? Most likely the one where you had the best experience last time you shopped there. The one where someone helped you look for what you needed, the one where the person on the register smiled, the one where they actually know your name and what your business does? – The one that knows you as a person. Or maybe you get your pens from a catalog that your employer says you should use. Why did that office supply company become the corporate approved supplier? Because their sales person got to know the people in your purchasing department so he could make a competitive bid at the right time.

The B2B/B2C distinction has always bothered me. Outside of work we are all consumers, yet there seems to be an underlying assumption that when we are buying on behalf of someone else our behavior and expectations change the moment we walk through the office door. That the way we act in a work environment is different than we do at home. – I don’t believe that.

Marketing content isn’t (or shouldn’t be) aimed at an organization, it’s aimed at people within that organization. Good business marketing is about giving people the information to help them do their jobs better, or make their lives easier. It’s about reaching decision makers – i.e. the people who can make a difference. – See, “people,” again.

I have a Content Marketing best practices list pinned up in my office and on that list is “Think human-to-human not B2B or B2C.” – I couldn’t agree more.

I did start another detailed blog post on what I believe to be the “Myth of B2B” that quickly grew long enough to be a chapter (or chapters) of what might be a whole book one day. But I wanted to get other people’s thoughts beyond just those few responses on Twitter.

Do you believe that “B2B is a Myth”?

A World Record Weekend for Brand Marketing – Almost.

Over the weekend my wife and I drove the nine hours from Central Illinois up to the top of Lake Michigan to help try and break a world record. The event was labelled as “MINI on the Mack” and the aim was to get a record number of cars of a single make across the spectacular suspension bridge that links Mackinaw City with St. Ignace, MI.

We love our MINIs and over the years have owned a variety of different model types and configurations. The Roadster and the sporty Cooper S that currently reside in our garage are our ninth and tenth MINIs. Although we’ve owned many other makes and models of cars over the years, we always seem to come back to MINI. I guess you could say we are brand loyal.

mini1319At the event this weekend someone said that what makes the MINI so much fun is that it’s the only car that comes with friends as standard. Well we met up with over 1,300 such friends (as you can see above), and had a great time.

But of course I had to also take a look at the event with my marketing glasses on. The official corporate MINI involvement was low-key. Of course there was MINI branding visible, and MINI goodies for sale, but this wasn’t an overt sales pitch, it was about the MINI owners – usually referred to as either “MINIacs” or “motorers.”  This was brand activism at its most visible.

The convoy of MINIs was impressive providing an almost two-hour long rolling billboard for the brand highlighting the different models and the fact that thanks to the multiple creative options available no two MINIs are alike. Every car is a reflection of its owner’s personality.

MINIviewThe town’s people got behind the event lining the roads and waving to participants; other motorists got into the spirit too with waves, horns, and even a few pulling over to take photos and video. After the event when we were walking around town still wearing the MINI on the Mack t-shirts we were constantly thanked for being there and asked about the event. And about the cars.

All weekend the MINI spirit was pervasive, associating the brand with fun, and friendly people.

But did it help MINI with driving revenue? If my experience is anything to go by, it certainly did. After seeing photos and notes of the event on my personal FaceBook page I had two friends message me asking advice about purchasing MINIs. – If even a fraction of our fellow 1,300 MINIacs had the same experience I’d say the event definitely helped move the needle for a few MINI dealerships around the country.

So did we get the World Record? – Unfortunately no. We needed 1,452 cars present to snatch that title, but the 1,319 who turned up was enough to set the American record for the largest collection of MINIs assembled. – There is already talk of trying again in 2017.

Collaboration is the Pits – And it can drive success.

“Hot Pit Pass” – Those words on the ticket hanging around my neck on a fancy lanyard were magic to me. The coveted prize of any motor-racing fan, to be granted access to epicenter of the action in any major motor-race. A few years ago my wife and I had been lucky enough to be invited to attend the Texas NASCAR race as a guest of Richard Childress Racing, and part of the package was a guided tour of their pit operations and the coveted pass that allowed us to stay in the pit and garage area the whole race. NASCAR is un-matched in the access it gives fans and visitors, and with that magic piece of paper we got to wander anywhere; including sitting on the pit wall watching the cars come in and being serviced.

It was a magic moment witnessing the well-rehearsed choreography of a top-flight pit crew. Six men flowed over the wall to service the car, filling it with fuel and changing four wheels and tires in less than 15 seconds. (In Formula One where the pit crew can number as high as fourteen people each with a dedicated task they can accomplish a four wheel and tire change in less than three seconds!)

A good pit-stop can mean the difference between success and failure in a race; and a good pit crew can be just as effective as the driver when it comes to positioning a car to win. Despite there only being one person on track, motor racing is definitely a team sport. This was bought home to me again recently during a business trip while watching the 2015 NASCAR race from Atlanta on the hotel room TV. Not surprisingly I’ve stayed a fan of the RCR teams and always follow them closely, and the Caterpillar sponsored #31 team in particular. During the Atlanta race the #31 pit crew were exceptional, as it soon became apparent that with every single pit stop the car emerged from the pits several positions ahead of where it had entered. In some cases the fast efficient work of the team gaining four or five places.

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It also struck me that the pit-crew model is a perfect analogy for the content creation and delivery process.

Customers are looking to your content to provide answers to questions, and as the content creator you may feel like the lone driver out on track fighting for space and hoping to get out front and be noticed first.

But the truth is that most customer answers need input and information from across your organization. Customers don’t think in terms of your operational silos, so they don’t look for information in neatly packaged chunks. To meet your customer’s needs you need to collaborate with subject matter experts, do research, and them pull it all together in a language that your customer will understand.

You need to pull together your own “pit crew” around a particular subject, value their individual inputs and pull them together to develop a process, to deliver the result that will help you, and your customer move forward at an accelerated pace.

Collaboration of this type also results in a premium consistent brand experience; ensuring that your customer gets the same answer, the same information, no matter through which channel they ask their question.

Working together results in success for both you and your customers.

Be Arnold – Not Mary-Kate

“Why be Mary-Kate and Ashley when we can be the Arnold to the rest of the industry’s Danny DeVito?”

It may sound like a strange conversation, but it’s one I’ve had several times at different points in my career; usually when I’ve been at a small to medium sized, or spin-off start-up, software company. The underlying conundrum behind the question was “How do we differentiate ourselves?”

Nearly every business, to a greater or lesser extent, is akin to a commodity driven business these days. There are very few disruptive companies whose success is solely due to the fact that they are the only one doing something. Everybody has a competitor, or two, or lots; all doing essentially the same thing you are, especially when you are playing in a global marketplace.

If someone tells you what line of business they are in, and you answer “Me too,” then you are now a commodity. If you don’t differentiate yourself trough the unique value you bring to you customers you become an Mary-Kate or Ashley Olsen. A product that can be swapped out with one that does basically the same thing and no-one really notices the difference.

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So how do you differentiate your value?

With CONTENT

Content can make you stand out like Arnold Schwarzenegger towering over Danny DeVito in the movie Twins.

Look at what makes your company and products special, how do you solve your customers problems in the way that provides them the most value? Find the perspective that only you can provide; look to your company’s own experts, and your customers too. If you can find a niche where you can provide the most informative, engaging, and useful information, then plan to become the industry’s leading expert in that space.

With the right content and the right approach you can position yourself to tower over others who may think they are just like you. Remember – Be Arnold, not Mary-Kate.

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The Name is Bond, … Want to talk?

This is my 007th blog post of this year (according to the naming convention I use for these posts on my laptop), which seems appropriate as this week also marked the first release of any official photos and behind the scenes footage for the next James Bond movie, SPECTRE.

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I’ve been fascinated by the world of 007 for almost fifty years now, I’ve written one book about Bond and have a second one that will be published later this year. It’s not just the character himself that fascinates me, it’s the way that the franchise has developed over the years, constantly changing to meet new challenges, changing tastes, changing political landscapes, and reach new audiences across the globe. A core part of that has been studying the way that EON Productions and MGM have handled marketing the movies. The release of the photographs and video footage this week was part of EON’s long established practice of building interest in their movies over a period of several months; in this case about ten months, as SPECTRE isn’t scheduled to open till November. Bond movie production has always been a series of milestones: announcing the cast, the name of the movie, the start of filming, a look at the impressive sets, the song, the trailer; they are all marketing events.

But they are all still essentially broadcast events, they help build awareness of the brand, but they are definitely one way communication. It’s a “look at us and this cool thing we are doing” message. If Bond marketing falls down in one area when compared to other franchises, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, the Marvel movies etc., it’s engaging with their core customers, the fans.

Luckily many of the Bond writers, scholars, collectors, and fans makes up for that with a very lively, welcoming, inclusive, and fun informal community with an active collection of websites, social media feeds, blogs, podcasts, publications etc.

Among these one of the recent stand outs has been the emergence of the James Bond Radio podcast, and they did it by marketing through conversation.

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Launched only a year ago it is already the “must listen” podcast for Bond aficionados for its insightful reviews, news, interviews, and more. This isn’t just two guys telling us how much they enjoy Bond, although that is a recurrent theme, it’s an inclusive experience with fellow fans providing input for trivia quizzes, or even providing jingles. The associated Facebook page is a lively community with the hosts engaging in dialog with the listeners. To celebrate their successful first year they didn’t do a self-congratulatory show, instead they invited six of their listeners to be on the show and asked them the same Bond related questions they ask when introducing the various Bond related professional guests that have appeared to date, instantly placing the fans on the same level of conversation as anyone else. Whether they know it or not, the James Bond Radio guys are a great case study in Content Marketing and using the content they produce to engage with their audience to build not just brand awareness, but loyalty, and retention. How did I first find out about James Bond Radio? By recommendation from a friend in the Bond community – and personal recommendation is the strongest marketing tool there is.

Start a conversation with your customers and they can become your greatest advocates.

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