Getting Your Customers to Stop Thinking of You

Dr. Art Markman talking about making your company a habit

This week I had the privilege of attending Forrester’s Tech Marketing Roundtable here in Austin, TX. As usual, Forrester put together a great discussion with fellow product marketers and shared some fascinating insights.

Forrester also invited a guest presenter for the discussion, Dr. Art Markman from the University of Texas. Dr. Markman’s topic of discussion was on how to make your company a habit (Side note -keep an eye out for Dr. Markman’s upcoming book,Thinking Smart. Sounds like a great read for Product Marketers.)

Your first question may be, why should you care about your customer’s habits?  Here’s one good reason from Dr. Markman:

In the end, the importance of habits inverts a common wisdom about successful businesses. You may think that you want your customers to think about you often. In fact, you often want your customers to act without thinking.

Customers have habits that involve routines and these routines don’t change easily. This can be a tremendous advantage if you can become part of their natural activities. This also means that if you are trying to replace a competitor’s product or service, you can’t assume that just because you have better features that  a customer will naturally switch.

I can’t think of a better example to this point than Microsoft’s attempt to get people to stop searching on Google and give Bing a try. Microsoft has done an admirable job trying to differentiate their product through design and around certain features (e.g. an innovative travel search) and has launched a multi-million dollar advertising campaign to drive awareness.

The cost of trying to replace a user’s default search? Right now, it  is estimated that Microsoft is losing over $1 billion dollars a quarter with Bing and has only reduced Google’s market share by two-tenths of a percentage point from the 65% it held when Bing debuted.

So, how do you make your company or product a habit?  Here are a few starting points from Dr. Markman:

  • Find your customer’s habits and insert yourself – once you know what they are actually doing you can design for their behavior.
  • Find a way to disrupt existing consumer behavior so they will consider something new – sometimes you need to disrupt their habits in order to get them to consider a new choice.
  • Don’t surprise people when it comes to change, let them know the site changes are coming –  as opposed to Facebook always surprising users with new features.
  • Look for the little things you can do to make your product become a habit – we often point out the big features but it can be the small things that make your product ‘automatic’ in your customer’s minds.
It is worth noting that finding existing habits is not a trivial task. Asking customers what they do will lead you down a different path than what they really are doing. The best advice, “Don’t just do something, stand there and watch” what they are actually doing to gather insights into their product habits.

In the end, finding out what your customers are doing without thinking can help make your product a better experience and make it even harder for competitors to replace you.

The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question

Having a system in place to capture customer feedback is essential to understanding how your customers feel about your product offering. I am a fan of the Net Promoter feedback approach and would recommended the book on the topic, the Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey.

That’s why I was excited to hear that they are releasing a new version of the book and were recently on the HBR IdeaCast podcast to talk about the update. While the basis of their framework, “Would you recommend us to a friend?“, hasn’t changed,  it has been over five years since the first edition of the book. The 2.0 version not only addresses the amplification of feedback through social channels, but also incorporates the evolution of the framework by companies that have deployed it as part of their feedback efforts.

The podcast is a great introduction to the Net Promoter methodology and well worth the twenty-minute listen. However, there was one really great point that I wanted to highlight from the discussion.

Here’s what Rob Markey said in response to the question on how companies turn their customers into promoters, instilling in their employees not only the goal of creating more promoters and less detractors, but also putting in their hands the tools to do that.

That’s such an outstanding point. It is one thing to capture the input. It is another to track it as a trend over time. And it is a completely different thing to empower your team to make the changes necessary to improve.

You often hear marketers give advice such as,”always listen to your customers”, but that’s only part of the equation. The real trick is having the ability to act on the feedback before it is too late.

So, are you listening or are you listening and acting?

Image Credit:  sean dreilinger

Harvard Business Review Gone Wrong: When You No Longer Preach What You Teach

Last weekend, while perusing the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble, I noticed that they were now selling full magazine subscriptions to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). I was surprised to see that the in-store price at B&N was only $69.  Last time I checked, HBR was usually north of $100 so this seemed like a great deal.

I didn’t pull the trigger at the time, but left thinking that at $69 it was too good a deal to pass up.

I had subscribed to the HBR in the past so it was no surprise that later in the week I received an offer in the mail to resubscribe to the magazine.  What was a surprise was the rate.

I was being offered a “corporate discount” that was the “LOWEST RATE WE ALLOW” for the bargain price of $79.


Technically, the $79 offer did include a free “bookmark” and “leadership guide” but why wasn’t the “LOWEST RATE WE ALLOW” the same or better than the in-store offer?  Why didn’t they offer me an option without the gifts for the same $69 price?  Oh, and as far as the “LOWEST RATE WE ALLOW”, right now Amazon is offering the same HBR  subscription for $79.

The fact that HBR would offer a total stranger, who has seen not been a subscriber, a better deal, at a much great cost to them (when you take into account B&N’s margin), makes no sense at all.

While I really did expect a different experience coming from the Harvard Business Review, as a marketer, I do understand the challenges of aligning the different market channels – web, retail, direct mail, etc.

Creating a customer experience across channels is hard work and I would say requires maniacal discipline.  Adam Richardson (writing on one of my favorite blogs, the Harvard Business Review Blog) talks about this challenge and why so few companies deliver when it comes providing a great customer experience.  Adam comments,

Crafting a great customer experience requires enormous amounts of collaboration across groups in a company that often work independently and at different stages of product development. In many cases marketing, product design, customer services, sales, advertising agency, retail partners must all be working in concert to create even a single touchpoint.

I wouldn’t say HBR lost me as a customer, but I don’t feel like their marketing channels are aligned and I am definitely not feeling special.

Remember That Talk About Delighting Customers, Forgetaboutit

Finding ways to delight your customers is a continuing challenge.  What delights your customer now is most likely going to be an expectation in the near future. Marketers, including myself, love tackling this type of challenge.  It involves getting to know your customer and applying creativity in developing a solution.

And more often than not, it is a wasted effort.

That is, according to Matthew Dixon, managing director of the Corporate Executive Board’s Sales and Service Practice.  He is the latest to talk on HBR’s IdeaCast and brings up good points around customer satisfaction.  Matthew is coming from a customer service perspective but I think it applies to all parts of the customer experience.  To sum-up Matthew’s main concern,

Customers will punish you harder for failing at the basics than they will reward you for delighting them.

This make complete sense.  You are not going to tell anyone to fly JetBlue because they have comfortable seats and DishTV if they constantly have travel delays and missed connections.  If your phone doesn’t make calls, it doesn’t matter how nice looking it is, you are going to complain about it.

So how do you do this?  I like the NetPromotor philosophy for tracking customer experience.  It starts with the basic question, “How likely is it that you would recommend [product ] to a friend or colleague?”.  From this question, you can track your cumulative customer feedback over time.  If you see your score going down, its time to dig in and figure out what’s going on.

If you are not ready to do a formal NetPromotor program, there are alot other ways to get a gauge of your customer satisfaction – surveys, forums, social media, etc.  Most important is to establish a baseline, even if it is semi-formal, and continue to monitor.

Bottom line, table stakes must be met before you can talk about what’s for dessert.

Random Reading – A Holiday Recap

Thanks to Mitch Joel for recomending Sir Ken Robinson’s talk at TED, Bring on the learning Revolution.  A few great quotes from the video that I highly recommend watching:

It’s very hard to know what it is we take for granted.  And the reason is, you take it for granted.

Life is not linear – it’s organic.

College does not begin in Kindergarten.

If you are doing something you love, an hour feels like five minutes.

If you are in the mood for a fun TED talk, check out Hillel Cooperman’s six minute talk, Legos for grownups.

For those of you still confused by the world cup, here is John Cleese’s take on the difference between Soccer and Football.

I thought HBR’s Why Friends Matter at Work and in Life offered some great words of wisdom,

The happy truth is that the people who say they’re not here to make friends don’t win. That’s true for reality TV. It’s true for business. And it’s true for life.

And on that note, hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend and are having an excellent summer!

Top Down Strategy

Wanted to follow-up to my last post on Portfolio Management with an add on the importance of strategic direction from the top.  This month’s HBR has an article discussing “What Only The CEO Can Do” and I thought this comment sums it up perfectly:

Resolving the tension of sometimes divergent short-term and long-term priorities is, as Peter Drucker reminded us, a challenge as old as business itself. Drucker said, “The CEO decides on the balance between yield from the present activities, and investment in an unknown, unknowable and highly uncertain future….it is a judgment rather than [a decision] based on ‘facts.’

HBR On Marketing In A Downturn


This month’s HBR has an excellent article on marketing during a downturn.  In (very) brief, here is the summary:

  • Understand recession psychology – make sure you understand how your customers are going to react during the recession
  • Manage investments – determine which of your products have the best and worst opportunities and make smart choices when it comes to funding
  • Market through the recession – drive short term gains but don’t sacrifice the long term health of your products

And for after the recession:

Survivors that make it through this recession by focusing their attention on consumer needs and core brands will be strongly positioned for sunnier days ahead. However, companies must understand how people’s behavior may change following the recession so they will be able to offer products and communicate messages aligned with the needs of new consumer segments.

After most recessions have ended, consumers’ attitudes and behaviors return to “normal” within a year or two. Following more extreme downturns, though, consumers’ heightened sense of economic vulnerability can persist for a decade or longer.

Very interesting.  Read the full article here.

Working on Collaboration

I have been working on my business model and just how much control I want to have vs. a completely open model.  HBS has a great article this month on the topic called Which Kind of Collaboration Is Right for You?” (sorry, i think you need a subscription to read the entire article online) that has been a big help.
The article discusses four basic modes for collaboration innovation:  Elite circle, Innovation mall, Innovation community, consortium.  I had been leaning towards a completely open network, but here some the quotes I am fixated on,

“With open participation, you don’t need to know your contributors. Indeed, the fact that you don’t know them can be particularly valuable; interesting innovative solutions can come from people or organizations you might never have imagined had something to contribute.”

“Open modes, however, have their disadvantages. Notably, they’re not as effective as closed approaches in identifying and attracting the best players. That’s because as the number of participants increases, the likelihood that a participant’s solution will be selected (especially for an ambiguous problem) decreases.”

I wouldn’t say this article has helped me decide which way to go but it has helped put together a list of pros and cons of the various options.