Customer Experience Management Guide: 55 Tips to Improve Customer Experience

Customer experience management is a top priority for many enterprises, particularly as we look beyond 2016 to the competitive landscape. Today, customer experience heavily influences customer retention, customer loyalty, and customer advocacy – all desirable outcomes for modern organizations.

Managing the customer experience, however, is a facet of business operations that proves challenging. From utilizing the right technology to support customer experience, to empowering employees with a sense of ownership that cultivates a strong desire to provide exceptional experiences for customers, to developing systems and protocols to create a consistent experience across touch points and channels, there are myriad considerations to weigh when designing a customer experience management program.

We’ve rounded up 55 tips from customer experience thought leaders to help you navigate the complex maze of customer experience management, encompassing challenges, best practices, examples, and strategies for creating amazing customer experiences from the top down in your organization.

Click on a category name below to jump to a specific section: 

Use predictive insights to deliver optimized responses in real-time. “To provide an experience where customers can navigate across multiple devices (mobile or desk-bound), brands must deliver engagement and shopping experiences that recognize each device and automatically adjust interactions to deliver seamless experiences. You will want to be able to respond to each customer’s interactions in real time and extend relevant content and offers based on an individual’s real-time activity, when their engagement is at its highest.” – Natalie Petouhoff (Dr. Natalie), Webinar About Best Practices: Customer Experience Management, Technology, Roles and Strategy, Dr. Natalie; Twitter: @drnatalie

Want to see all the tips? You can find them here at NGDATA.


WHAT?!?!?!? Women Considered Better Coders – But Only If They Hide Their Gender

What Does Gender Have to Do With Coding? When a group of computer science students decided to study the way that gender bias plays out in software development communities, they assumed that coders would be prejudiced against code written by women. After all, women make up a very small percentage of software developers – 11.2% according to one 2013 survey – and the presence of sexism in all corners of the overwhelmingly male tech industry has been well documented.

You’ve Got To Be Kidding! So the student researchers were surprised when their hypothesis proved false – code written by women was in fact more likely to be approved by their peers than code written by men. But that wasn’t the end of the story: this only proved true as long as their peers didn’t realise the code had been written by a woman.

“Our results suggest that although women on GitHub may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless,” the study’s authors write. The researchers, who published their findings earlier this week looked at the behavior of software developers on GitHub, one of the largest open-source software communities in the world.

What Were The Results of the Study? Based in San Francisco, GitHub is a giant repository of code used by over 12 million people. Software developers on GitHub can collaborate on projects, scrutinise each other’s work, and suggest improvements or solutions to problems. When a developer writes code for someone else’s project, it’s called a “pull request”. The owner of the code can then decide whether or not to accept to proffered code.

  • Researchers found that code written by women was approved at a higher rate (78.6%) than code written by men (74.6%)
  • The researchers looked at approximately 3m pull requests submitted on GitHub, and found that code written by women was approved at a higher rate (78.6%) than code written by men (74.6%).
  • Looking for an explanation for this disparity, the researchers examined several different factors, such as whether women were making smaller changes to code (they were not) or whether women were outperforming men in only certain kinds of code (they were not).
  • “Women’s acceptance rates dominate over men’s for every programming language in the top 10, to various degrees,” the researchers found.
  • The researchers then queried whether women were benefiting from reverse bias – the desire of developers to promote the work of women in a field where they are such a small minority. To answer this, the authors differentiated between women whose profiles made it clear that they were female, and women developers whose profiles were gender neutral.
  • It was here that they made the disturbing discovery: women’s work was more likely to be accepted than men’s, unless “their gender is identifiable”, in which case the acceptance rate was worse than men’s.

What Do Female Coders Think About the Study? Lorna Jane Mitchell, a software developer whose work is almost entirely based on GitHub, said that it was impossible to tell whether a pull request was ignored out of bias, or just because a project owner was busy or knew another developer personally. Her profile on GitHub clearly identifies her as female, something she won’t be changing based on the results of this study.

“I have considered how wise it is to have a gender-obvious profile and to me, being identifiably female is really important,” Mitchell said by email. “I want people to realise that the minorities do exist. And for the minorities themselves: to be able to see that they aren’t the only ones … it can certainly feel that way some days.”

Another developer, Isabel Drost-Fromm, whose profile picture on GitHub is a female cartoon character, said that she’s never experienced bias while working GitHub, but that she normally uses the site to work on projects with a team that already knows her and her work.

Jenny Bryan, a professor of statistics at the University of British Columbia, uses GitHub as a teacher and developer in R, a programming language. Her profile makes clear that she is a woman, and she doesn’t believe that she’s been discriminated against due to her gender.

“At the very most, men who don’t know me sometimes explain things to me that I likely understand better than they do,” she writes. “The men I interact with in the R community on GitHub know me and, if my genderhas any effect at all, I feel they go out of their way to support my efforts to learn and make more contributions.”

Bryan was more concerned with the paucity of women using GitHub than she was with the study’s results. “Where are the women?” she asks. One possibility she raises is the very openness of the open source community.

“In open source, no one is getting paid to manage the community,” she writes. “Thus often no one is thinking about how well the community is (or is not) functioning.”

That’s a pressing question for GitHub itself, which has faced serious charges of internal sexism which led to the resignation of co-founder and CEO Tom Preston-Werner in 2014. GitHub did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the study.

In 2013, GitHub installed a rug in its headquarters that read, “United Meritocracy of GitHub.” The rug was removed in 2014 after criticism from feminist commentators that, although meritocracy is a virtue that it is hard to disagree with in principle, it doesn’t do much for diversity in the workplace. CEO Chris Wanstrath tweeting, “We thought ‘meritocracy’ was a neat way to think of open source but now we see the problems with it. Words matter. We’re getting a new rug.”

As the researchers of the pull request study wrote, “The frequent refrain that open source is a pure meritocracy must be reexamined.”

My POV: As one of the few females in the technology, analyst, software, digital transformation world, you would think that women would be highly sought after. It not for all the obvious reasons that help companies check off their requirements to support a gender neutral workplace, but also because women bring something very special to the workplace. An honest desire to do great work in collaboration with others.

I hope more companies who are saying they want to support women in technology, software, medicine and other typically male-dominated fields put their money where their mouth is and hire us. We are are ready and willing and capable of going the distance. I know when I was in graduate school, I was the only blonde female in my Ph. D. program. What does that say?

@DrNatalie, Ph. D. In Engineering, UCLA and VP and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research



Innovations in Performance Management: Verint’s Workforce Optimization

Why is this announcement so important? Verint® Systems Inc.  announced substantial enhancements to its Verint Workforce Optimization software designed to help contact center, back-office and branch operations better manage the performance of employees and operations.Armed with a brand new user experience and analytics, this latest release includes innovations in performance management to help organizations gain even greater insight into how employees are performing, how well goals are being met and how to better engage and take action on these insights.

This technology release comes at a time when market adoption for performance management software is projected to rise, according to research conducted by Saddletree Research. In a recent survey 22 percent of respondents identified performance management as the “most likely” solutions to be replaced in 2016.  

Why Is It Important to Balance Cost, Quality and Customer Service? Managing performance and productivity in a typical enterprise is no easy task, given disparate systems, complex processes and the differences in performance metrics between roles and functions. Performance management is a practice and culture that applies to individuals, teams and departments. It requires organizational buy-in, transparency, regular measurement and a focus on business-oriented goals. To help companies master these dynamics, Verint Performance Management features a unified set of dashboards, scorecards, coaching, e-learning and gamification capabilities that enable a closed-loop cycle and advanced approach to performance management.

What Does This Latest Release Feature? This latest release features a new state-of-the-art user interface that supports advanced visualization, data exploration, and analysis of employee and company-wide performance, providing critical executive insights that support time-sensitive decision making and actions. The enhancements also enable managers to work more effectively with the addition of new flexible scorecard widgets and dashboards. Likewise, employees benefit from a more intuitive performance scorecard and greater visibility into their individual metrics and achievement of goals. 

What Does the Scorecard Include? The solution also features scorecard workspaces that offer performance summaries and overviews, heat mapping, performance comparisons and multiple views of key performance indicators (KPIs). Using these scorecard workspaces, users can visually and automatically identify answers to employee engagement questions, such as: Which employees are meeting and exceeding goals and which areas need improvement? Is the performance of employees consistent across time? Where is performance improving and declining? How do peer comparisons map and trend? And how does the performance of individual employees change over time?

How Can Companies Benefit from Advanced Analytics? In addition, a new improvement opportunities widget has been added to Verint Performance Management, enabling organizations to automatically surface KPIs that represent opportunity and improvement areas based on user-definable criteria and data analysis. With this capability, managers can quickly identify the employees and KPIs that need attention based on their scores or recent trends.

What Does Gamification Have To Do With Performance? Also embedded in this latest release is the ability to leverage Verint Gamification, a solution that applies game mechanics and behavioral science “game thinking” in a business setting. Using gamification, organizations can engage employees, motivate them to improve skills and knowledge and solve problems, as well as enable them to take action and immediate control over their performance. The latest version of Verint Performance Management became generally available in November 2015.

For more information about Verint Workforce Optimization solutions, click here.

@DrNatalie Petouhoff, VP and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research

Covering Customer-facing Applications In the Cloud That Drive Better Business Results and Awesome Customer Experiences

IoT In the Auto Industry: Automakers Choose Microsoft as Connected Car Partner

What Does Mobility Mean? To Microsoft mobility means the mobility of the person, not of any single device. People now want their technology experience to move with them, from place to place and device to device, at home, at work, and on the move. And this is also true in the automotive industry and in today’s connected cars. People expect their car’s computing power to match its horsepower. And automakers are leading the way, bringing mobility solutions to their cars to meet drivers’ changing expectations, as well as enhance safety. These automakers see their cars as technology platforms, and they are choosing Microsoft as their partner.

Why are Are Automotive Giants Choosing Microsoft for IoT and Cloud? They are choosing Microsoft because we uniquely deliver end-to-end solutions from the cloud, to the device, to predictive analytics, and do so in a way that allows all our partners to innovate on top of their existing systems. Nobody else offers this breadth and depth to the auto industry.

Which Car Companies Have Chosen Microsoft for Cloud and IoT? Volvo Cars, Nissan, Harman and IAV announced  details about their partnerships with Microsoft to enhance their connected car strategies. They join Toyota, Ford, Qoros, Delphi, and other companies already working with Microsoft to bring their cars into the mobile-first, cloud-first world.

What’s the Future of The customer’s Relationship and Experience with These Connected Cars? In the near future, the car will be connected to the Internet, as well as to other cars, your mobile phone and your home computer. The car becomes a companion and an assistant to your digital life. And so our strategy is to be the ultimate platform for all intelligent cars.

At CES there were many demonstrations of a variety of mobility solutions available today and reveal new prototypes. They showed ways people can be more productive in their cars, how cars can monitor what’s happening in their surroundings to improve safety, and how cars can adapt to unique users to deliver a more personal driving experience.

  • Volvo Cars showcased new concepts that integrate Microsoft Band 2 with a Windows 10 smartphone and the Volvo on Call Universal App, creating new ways for customers to interact with their vehicles. From the new Microsoft Band, a Volvo owner can press and hold the action button and say, “Volvo, start the heater of my car,” among many other options.
  • Harman announced a collaboration with Microsoft that will integrate Microsoft Office 365 productivity suite capabilities into Harman infotainment systems. Drivers will be able to access Office 365 services and interact with them through intelligent personal assistant software to schedule meetings, hear and respond to important emails, and make Skype calls when in park, or when on the road in autonomous vehicles.
  • IAV will use Windows 10 Continuum to stream Windows 10 via a mobile device directly to a car’s dashboard, giving drivers access to Windows 10 features and apps such as Cortana, Skype for Business, Calendar, Outlook and Groove Music while the vehicle is in autonomous driving mode or parked. This integration allows drivers to use the devices they already own. Microsoft and IAV will also demo how to use Cortana Analytics and data from a vehicle’s surroundings to improve safety by anticipating and mitigating potential vehicle and pedestrian accidents.

In addition, Nissan Motor Company and Microsoft announced that all Nissan LEAF and Infiniti models in Europe will have Connect Telematics Systems (CTS) powered by Microsoft Azure.

Why Is Microsoft A Good Partner for the Auto Industry, IoT, Cloud Computing and Awesome Customer Experiences? Automakers are choosing Microsoft as their connected car partner to help them transform the consumer experience with a platform for intelligent cars that complements their own strategies and ambitions. With this partner focus, they are able to leverage their cloud-based intelligence technologies, productivity services and tools, and even personal assistant technologies like Cortana in a neutral manner.

They are able to strike the right balance between using data to create both intelligent and personal experiences, while helping maintain privacy and security. They are also able to create more natural, human computing interfaces. And, they are able to develop and deploy secure platforms and infrastructure to enable innovation on top of existing systems.

My POV: Why Are Partnerships The Path to Innovation? It’s simply that when we collaborate we are a better we, than a single me. At least that’s my saying. I am always a better me when I collaborate. With respect to Microsoft and the auto industry they are partnering to build mutual value, not to compete. The value of a true partnership comes when one is able to help automakers accelerate their mobile and cloud strategies and unlock new experiences for consumers, like no one else can.

@DrNatalie Petouhoff, VP and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research
Covering Cloud and IoT That Drive Better Business Results and Awesome Customer Experiences

Is Reddit’s Controversy About the Content or the Digital Revenue Model?

Reddit’s forums are famous for hosting some of the most vibrant and some of the most disturbing (my personal opinion) discussions on the Web. The New York Times article by Jason Henry stated, “Mr. Huffman reappeared last Friday as chief executive to pull off a turnaround of the online message board, which has grappled with a series of missteps and is embroiled in a battle to win back the confidence of its users.” The San Francisco Chronicle reporter, Greta Kaul wrote, The new CEO of Reddit hosted an “Ask Me Anything” forum to clarify its content policies, which have been debated by free speech advocates and an antiharassment contingent for weeks. The site, known for everything from elevated conversations about political philosophy to photo collections of dead children, rolled out rules designed to curb harassment.

There were more than 40,000 Reddit users tuned in to Thursday’s forum at various times and generated 9,000 comments ~an hour. CEO Steve Huffman wrote, “We’ll consider banning subreddits (forums) that clearly violate the guidelines in my post — the ones that are illegal or cause harm to others. “There are many subreddits whose contents I and many others find offensive, but that alone is not justification for banning.

While most of the controversy is about Reddit administrator’s who have drawn both praise and criticism for their hands-off approach to regulating what could be said on the site and, which leaves many decisions up to volunteer moderators, there is an all together additional issue that not only Reddit has to face, but so do many other brands in this Age of Digital Disruption. In Ray Wang’s book: Disrupting Digital Business: Create An Authentic Experience in A Peer-to-Peer Economy says Digital Darwinism is not kind to those who wait to understand the transformation and choices business have to make, and make now.

My POV: Reddit has to decide what is going to drive their company. Are they defined by the type of brand they want to be or are they defined, as a company, by their digital business model? Over five thousand years ago our marketplaces were the hub of civilization. They were where traders returned from remote lands with exotic spices, jewels, silks, monkeys and parrots and told us fabulous stories. The Internet is still a place for storytelling. That’s not going to change. But what is changing is how businesses make money in this new storytelling-based marketplace call the Internet. Here’s what I mean by that.

Option 1: Choose Your Brand and It’s Values: If Reddit wants to be the “anything goes brand” then they mostly likely will have to change their business model (i.e., if the revenue model is ad-based then with the “anything goes” brand values, Reddit many be rightly worried that many or some of the ad sponsors would stop posting ads. If that would be the case, Reddit wouldn’t have the same revenue base.  And thus if Reddit chooses to the the “anything goes brand,” they would possibly have to look at other revenue sources.
Option 2: Choose Your Digital Revenue Model: Or Reddit can decide what their digital business model is and then that would dictate whether they are the “anything goes brand” or if they want to moderate some of the content. If their digital revenue model is ad revenue, then, depending on the ad sponsors, that might change how much ad revenue they receive.

There are brands out there, like Fiat that used Charlie Sheen in a Fiat TV commercial, that may like to be on the “edge.” I’m not suggesting that the Fiat TV commercial is in any way representative of some of the content that is at the center of the controversy at Reddit. But there are some brands would find some of the content on Reddit “off brand.” So as a brand, a CMO and CEO,  one has to answer the question, “What is the edge, and when have we gone off the edge to a place of no return as a brand?”
For Reddit, either decision means that there are stakeholders  – ad sponsors or the site’s administrator’s and / or volunteer moderators that may be upset. It’s a rock and a hard place and probably the tip of the iceberg for facing the idea that the Internet is the place to be COMPLETELY unedited, authentic, genuine and honest. However, Reddit is not the only brand that is facing this challenge. Many brand face this issue. While it’s not “in fashion” some brands do still take down posts that are not “on brand” to avoid a PR disaster. I’m not saying whether they are right or wrong in doing so. Just looking at what is happening and reporting what I see.
The author’s of the book The ClueTrain Manifesto wrote back in 1999 “Through the Internet, the people in your markets are discovering and inventing new ways to converse. They’re talking about your business. They’re telling one another the truth, in very human voices. You have two choices. You can continue to lock yourself behind the facile corporate words and happy talk brochures. Or you can join the conversation.
Perhaps an addendum to that today is – “You can join the conversation, but have to decide on your digital business revenue model, which will determine how completely unedited, authentic, genuine and honest your conversations are going to be.”
The Bottom-line: For those that are not clear, the digital disruption means that we are having to change our business models. We can no longer operate business the way we used to. And we have to consider how far is too far and how far is far enough to maintain what the author’s of the ClueTrain spoke about – which is the idea that one can step outside the typical, sterile, overstarched blandness of the old days of brands and just be human. But how far does one go, still be human, and not be offensive? How does one decide where the boundary lines are drawn? That is up to each and every individual and each and every brand.
And as I talk to CMOs, Customer Experience Professionals, Customer Care and Customer Service Professionals and IOT experts, these are the questions brands and those that spend money to sponsor those brands will have to decide. We are over the hype-cycle that the Internet is the place to be totally honest. We are now in a new era where we have to get serious about how brands are going to make money and what are the limits to what a brand can and can not do or will not do. Interesting times we live in.
What’s your take on what is on or over the edge in the area of Internet content and the editing or moderating of it?
@drnatalie   VP and Principle Analyst Covering The Digital Disruption and All It’s Consequences





Part 1: Women Making History: Lora Cain — First Female Announcer on Wheel Of Fortune

The very first television game show, Spelling Bee, was broadcast in 1938. 1941 marked the year for Truth or Consequences, the first game show to air on commercially-licensed television. Then came Let’s Make a Deal in 1963, Jeopardy in 1964, The Hollywood Squares in ’66 followed by The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game.

Whenever there is something great, there is always someone who dares to do it first. Before anyone thinks its a good idea or realizes the potential or the market… and then everyone else follows…

And just as in the early days of creating television shows, today is no different for a first. Lora Cain is the first female guest announcer on Wheel of Fortune, a nationally syndicated network game show. With the passing of the Charlie O’Donnell, 78, legendary announcer of Wheel of Fortune, the show decided to have several guest announcers before choosing the permanent one. Listen to the interview about her experience…

If you want to help someone create a first, you can vote for her at

Here’s to you Lora, for making history!

Here’s the press release about Lora and Wheel of Fortune:

Lora Cain on Wheel of Fortune: Guest Announcer with Pat Sajak & Vanna White

Learn. Share. Grow. @drnatalie


More marketers use social networking to reach customers

SAN FRANCISCO — Ford Motor has high hopes for Fiesta, a popular model abroad launching in the U.S. next year.
So how does it introduce the subcompact car to Americans? A massive ad blitz on TV? In-house promotions at dealers nationwide?


In April, Ford tapped 100 top bloggers and gave them a Fiesta for six months. The catch: Once a month, they’re required to upload a video on YouTube about the car, and they’re encouraged to talk — no holds barred — about the Fiesta on their blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

“It’s extremely important to this company’s history,” says Scott Monty, whose job as head of social media at Ford was created about a year ago to take advantage of the growing social-networking wave. “It’s about culture change and adapting to this ongoing way of communicating. The bloggers are fully free to say what they want.”

Social-media services, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and countless other websites, have had a profound effect on how millions of Americans — especially those under 35 — interact with others (or don’t), shop and view brands. It’s a real-time digital lifestyle, powered by smartphones and netbooks, that often colors what products they purchase, how they view brands and where they spend most of their waking hours.

Marketers have noticed. Social-networking services increasingly are indispensable business tools, says Forrester Research. According to its survey of 1,217 business decision makers worldwide late last year, 95% use social networks to some extent.

And 53% of more than 300 marketers planned to increase social-media marketing spending this year, according to a Forrester presentation in April.

Some of the biggest companies — Ford, Levi Strauss and Chevron, to name a few — are reengineering marketing operations to embrace digital tools to more nimbly brand products, support customers and cash in on the social-media wave. In doing so, they are creating online communities and aggressive outreach programs, and being brutally honest in talking directly to their customers/followers/fans/friends.

“It was an easy call. This is where our customers are,” says Megan O’Connor, director of digital marketing at Levi’s. The more-than-150-year-old company last month launched a social-media program on Facebook and Twitter along with a larger “Go Forth” traditional marketing campaign. Its goal is to burnish its brand name among young men.

Grown up digital

At their core, social networks are fostering a blistering number of personal connections and chatter online. The share of Americans 18 and over online who use a social-networking service more than quadrupled to 35% in 2008 from 8% in 2005, according to Pew Internet & American Life Project.

“It’s the modern-day version of knitting — to kill downtime,” says Kaitlin Villanova, 26, a social-media strategist in Brooklyn who is an avid iPhone user. “I use social networking to communicate, bank, comparison shop, everything.”

Facebook is up to 250 million members, 50 million of whom joined in the past three months. In April, they spent 13.9 billion minutes on Facebook, up 700% from April 2008, says Nielsen NetView.

More than 300,000 businesses — one-third of them small businesses — have a presence on Facebook. Members of its fastest-growing demographic — those 35 and older — have enormous purchasing power, a powerful incentive to marketers.

Twitter has about 40 million users who each day produce a staggering amount of tweets, Twitter’s quaint word to describe short messages. Its users spent nearly 300 million minutes on the site in April, 3,712% more than in April 2008, Nielsen says.

Increasingly, consumers don’t search for products and services. Rather, services come to their attention via social media, says Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics, a new book that explains how social media have changed how companies do business.

Social-networking-savvy businesses have appointed social-media directors to help:

•Add customers quickly. When software maker Intuit built a site for small businesses in late January, it integrated elements of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the social network for business professionals. After 12 weeks, it generated more than 1 million visits and helped spike QuickBooks unit shipments 57% in June, year-over-year.

“Social (media) is one of the key trends driving our business,” says Kira Wampler, social-media marketing leader at Intuit. “It’s more than pure marketing. It’s about fast connections with customers and building an ongoing relationship.”

National pizza chain Papa John’s added 148,000 fans on Nov. 17 through a guerrilla marketing campaign on Facebook. It offered a free medium pizza to anyone who signed up to be its fan on Facebook. The promotion gained it thousands of customers and drove its Web traffic up 253%. It now has more than 300,000 fans and hopes to top 1 million by the end of the year.

•Word-of-mouth marketing. Sometimes a company’s best advocates are its customers. Just ask Best Buy and MyFICO, the consumer division of Fair Isaac, which invented the FICO credit-risk score used by lenders. They’ve built specialized online communities where their customers freely evaluate products and services.

Those who visit MyFICO’s community website are spending 41% more than other customers, says Lyle Fong, CEO of software Lithium, which helps build online communities for more than 150 companies, including MyFICO.

Nine in 10 consumers trust their peers more than marketers, according to a recent survey of 25,000 by Nielsen.

The Federal Trade Commission is in the process of amending guidelines that would require bloggers to disclose their relationships with marketers whose products they endorse, says Mary Engle, associate director of advertising practices for the FTC.

•Enhance customer service. For more than a year, Comcast has pioneered the use of Twitter to talk directly to customers. Its Twitter page, @comcastcares, has 28,000 followers.

Comcast’s blueprint for unfettered customer support — no more waiting on hold on the phone — fomented a movement. Software maker Sage North America, to cite another example, routinely receives instant feedback from hundreds of people within an hour on specific products and services. “It is a living, breathing, 24/7 think tank of users and employees,” says Ryan Zuk, a company spokesman.

Besides being instant, such feedback is cheap. Typically, companies have relied on third-party focus groups that let them observe the reactions of customers during a two-hour session that can cost $10,000 to $15,000, says Natalie L. Petouhoff, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Lenovo has seen a 20% reduction in call-center activity in the U.S. over six months because nearly 50,000 customers go to its community website for information about laptops.

•Speak directly to customers. Blogs, Twitter or Facebook can be an ideal forum for CEOs to offer customers a candid viewpoint.

When a hack attack disabled Twitter’s service for hours this month, co-founder Biz Stone gave up-to-the-minute updates on the company’s blog.

The Carphone Warehouse, Europe’s leading independent retailer of mobile phones and services, has a simple credo: It says, “I’m sorry” when necessary on its Twitter page for customer support.

“There is no gap between the CEO and customer. They now talk directly to each other,” says Promise Phelon, CEO of UpMo, a career-management website. “The network is so connected, there’s no need for a middleman.”

“These customers want honesty, and quickly,” says Shiv Singh, who wrote a report on social-media marketing for ad agency Razorfish.

Challenges ahead

But with rewards come risks.

Reaching out to millions of consumers who thrive online around the clock requires an investment, a different type of thinking and some courage, says Petouhoff. She spent six months on a just-released report on monetization of social-media tools at 20 companies, including Lenovo and Intuit.

Many companies — reflecting the general public’s sentiment toward social media — fall into two camps: Those who embrace it and those who eschew it. “Those that don’t know how to get their arms around it seem to be held back by worrying about the legal implications of customers helping customers, and about being too honest with customers,” Petouhoff says.

Most corporations are still wedded to a traditional marketing approach, based on TV, radio and print ads, says Charlene Li, partner at technology consulting firm Altimeter Group. “Ford and Levi’s are at the avant-garde of social-media use, but they are not typical,” she says.

A social-media plan is hardly a guarantee of success, Li and others say. While some companies — especially market leaders such as Starbucks and Nike with consumer products — are predisposed to the medium, others aren’t. Tightly regulated health care providers, for example, may think twice about making the public’s comments readily available on Facebook or Twitter.

“Social media is not the messiah,” says Michael Brito, social-media strategist at Intel. “It is one of several tools.”

Still, a growing number of marketers can’t afford to ignore millions of potential customers who are consuming media in new ways.

Three-fourths of men ages 18 to 34 say they spend most of their time in front of a computer screen vs. 18% in front of a TV screen, according to a survey of 50,000 by, a lifestyle website. Those who don’t have a social-media plan don’t at their own risk, say marketing experts.

“Companies have no choice. This is where their customers are going,” says Shel Israel, author of the forthcoming Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods. “Companies have no choice. This is where their customers are going.”

source: USA Today


Customer Service? Ask a Volunteer

HERE’S the job description: You spend a few hours a day, up to 20 a week, at your computer, supplying answers online to customer questions about technical matters like how to set up an Internet home network or how to program a new high-definition television.

The pay: $0.

A shabby form of exploitation? Not to Justin McMurry of Keller, Tex., who spends about that amount of time helping customers of Verizon’s high-speed fiber optic Internet, television and telephone service, which the company is gradually rolling out across the country.

Mr. McMurry is part of an emerging corps of Web-savvy helpers that large corporations, start-up companies and venture capitalists are betting will transform the field of customer service.

Such enthusiasts are known as lead users, or super-users, and their role in contributing innovations to product development and improvement — often selflessly — has been closely researched in recent years. There have been case studies of early skateboarders and mountain bikers and their pioneering tweaks to their gear, for example, and of the programmers who were behind open-source software like the Linux operating system. These unpaid contributors, it seems, are motivated mainly by a payoff in enjoyment and respect among their peers.

But can this same kind of economy of social rewards develop in the realm of customer service? It is, after all, a field that companies typically regard as a costly nuisance and that consumers often view as a source of frustration.

A look at the evolving experiment that Verizon Communications began in July suggests that company-sponsored online communities for customer service, if handled adeptly, hold considerable promise.

Mark Studness, director of e-commerce at Verizon, is a software engineer by training and an avid consumer electronics tinkerer whose home projects have included installing high-end audiovisual systems. In those projects, he has often visited Web sites where users offer one another tips and answer questions. Verizon, Mr. Studness determined, needed to find a smart way to try to tap into that potential resource for customer service.

In talking to people and surveying the research on voluntary online communities, Verizon concluded that super-users would be crucial to success.

“You have to make an environment that attracts the Justin McMurrys of the world, because that’s where the magic happens,” Mr. Studness said.

Natalie L. Petouhoff, an analyst at Forrester Research, said that online user groups conform to what she calls the 1-9-90 rule. About 1 percent of those in the community, she explained, are super-users who supply most of the best answers and commentary. An additional 9 percent are “responders” who mainly reply and rate Web posts, she said, and the other 90 percent are “readers” who primarily peruse and search the Web site for useful information.

“The 90 percent will come,” Ms. Petouhoff said, “if you have the 1 percent.”

Verizon explored the alternative of building the Web site and managing the forums itself, but it decided to call on outside expertise. Several suppliers, including HelpStream, Jive Software and Telligent, offer corporate social networking software with customer service features. Verizon chose Lithium Technologies, a fast-growing start-up based in Emeryville, Calif.

Lithium comes to online customer service from a heritage in gaming. Its chief executive and co-founder, Lyle Fong, was a founder of GX Media, which developed a leading Web site,, and created technologies for professional rankings and tournaments.

Lithium’s current roster of 125 clients includes AT&T, BT, iRobot, Linksys, Best Buy and Nintendo.

The mentality of super-users in online customer-service communities is similar to that of devout gamers, according to Mr. Fong. Lithium’s customer service sites for companies, for example, offer elaborate rating systems for contributors, with ranks, badges and “kudos counts.”

“That alone is addictive,” Mr. Fong said. “They are revered by their peers.”

Benchmark Capital, a venture capital firm that invested $12 million in Lithium last year, was impressed with the company’s gaming background and its focus on catering to super-users to build communities. Peter Fenton, a Benchmark general partner, said that many of the most popular consumer Web sites and services, from Wikipedia to Twitter, are animated by a relatively small percentage of avid users.

“In customer service, it’s still very early, but I think it’s likely the same pattern will play out,” said Mr. Fenton, who serves on the boards of both Twitter and Yelp, a site where users post reviews of restaurants and other local businesses.

At Verizon, Mr. Studness says he is pleased with the experiment so far. He calls the company-sponsored customer-service site “a very productive tool,” partly because it absorbs many thousands of questions that would otherwise be expensive calls to a Verizon call center.

But the online forums, he added, also provide customer ideas for improvements in hardware and software for the company’s fiber optic service, as well as a large, growing and searchable knowledge base online.

“One answer can help thousands,” he said.

Mr. McMurry, who is 68 and a retired software engineer, is supplying answers by the bushel. He joined the Verizon-sponsored forums in August after reading about them on another technical Web site. A scan through his lengthy list of posts shows a range from the straightforward (programming a DVR remotely by computer) to the arcane (the fine points of HDMI technology, for High-Definition Multimedia Interface).

As a software expert, Mr. McMurry has taught training classes. “Seeing the light turn on in their eyes when they understood was exciting,” he said.

His online tutoring, he observed, brings a similar satisfaction.

“People seem to like most of what I say online, and I like doing it,” he said.

MR. McMURRY has a lofty ranking as a “Silver II” contributor to the site and as a community leader, denoted by “CL” in a red box next to his name. Community leaders also have their own forum, have direct access to Verizon technical staff members and get early glimpses of new products — all a part of cultivating super-users.

“Who knows how long I’ll keep doing this,” Mr. McMurry said, “but I’m enjoying it now.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 3, 2009
The Unboxed column last Sunday, about online volunteers who perform customer-service work for companies, misstated the amount that Benchmark Capital invested last year in Lithium Technologies, which supplies software for customer-service communities. It was $12 million, not $9 billion.

source: NY Times


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