Pinpoint

Three customers walk into a store…

Profiling for Maximum sales

Three customers step into your store. One’s brought a few magazine clippings. He’s interested, engaged in the shopping experience, talking to your staff, taking notes. He knows quite a bit about what you sell from the minute he walks in (or clicks on the link to your website).

One’s strolling around, looking at a bit of everything, familiarizing himself. Right away he says “just looking” when your friendly staff steps in to guide him. He spends much longer than your average customer in the store (or on the site).

The last customer walks in head down. He looks around quickly, sees the sign for the department he’s interested in, and beelines over there with seemingly no interest in the store at all. If the staff tries to help, they get a gruff “no thanks.”

Who’s really your Ideal Customer?

This week, Experience Design 201: a special series on profiling your customers to increase your sales.

Speaking to the right people

We’ve talked before about narrowing your Ideal Customer down to one, exact person you can speak to in your store layout, your marketing materials, and your website. As your intrepid Experience Designer, I’m here to remind you: to deliver delight to the Ideal Customer, you can’t talk to everyone.

Say you’re an expert in small animal care and you decide to run a website. You can aim everything from your colors to your layout to your language to your advertising, at an eight-year-old trying to learn more for a school project, hoping later to convince Mom to buy him a ferret; you can take crystal-clear aim at 23-year-old guys with pythons, wanting accessories and cool reptile-related clothing; or you can plan to attract little old ladies who want advice on saving money by grooming their pets themselves.

You’re still that same expert in small animal care, yet we’ve just created three wildly different sites for you, because you know exactly who you’re talking to in every way. You can do the exact same thing for three retail shop designs, as well—and a half a dozen others, just as distinct—without changing who you are and what you want to do in your business at all.

None of those folks are going to walk in to the store aimed at the other guys. Not ever. Some authors call this creating a persona, but here at MCE we skip the jargon and call this your Ideal Customer. Knowing your Ideal Customer is a long way from the old “target market,” a way of segmenting folks into age groups, genders, geographic regions, and income levels. Now with your exact Ideal Customer defined, you will never send a postcard to the young, single exec living in a new condo development next to the lady who downsized when her husband died, even though they live in the same area and have similar incomes. You know their needs go a lot deeper than this.

Experience Design 201: Advanced techniques for delighted customers

But suppose three “ideal” customers walk in (or arrive at the website) at the same time? Three python-lovers, three kids with their Moms in tow, or three ladies who own parrots? Who will buy? Who will—dare I say it—yank your chain? Who will be your biggest fan and spread the word for you, far and wide?

We need more. We need to know their buying profiles: in other words, what brought them here today. Now. How do we keep ‘em, do we want ‘em, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of dealing with these different prospective customers?

When you know how to profile the buying needs of your Ideal Customer, you’ll have a path to turbo-charging your sales that will guide everything from how you arrange your floorplan to how you write your blog.

Part One: RH, the Red Herring

There he is, with those magazine clippings. He’s educated about your product. He loves talking to you, emailing you, getting down to the details of what you offer.

I thought we’d talk about RH first because, gosh, he’s so much fun. He wants what you have. He knows all about it, but he’s still curious. You and your staff enjoy selling to him.

But it seems to take him a few trips to the store…

Or he abandons his shopping cart online, only to return a few days later…

You’ve emailed back and forth for weeks without a commitment to work together…

Hey, what’s going on?

RH doesn’t need you.

He’s only at the “want” stage. RH is a classic window shopper,* or comparison shopper. He walks out because he’s off to see what your competition’s got. He’ll never tell you that, of course, because each of you is contributing to his bank of knowledge so he can know everything there is to know before he buys.

He’s “shopping” for a future need, and that makes RH the most dangerous customer in the store. He’s the fish you thought you had hooked, but you never did. He may even make you work like a dog to earn his money, then drop you at the last second. He’s not only not loyal, he’s definitely playing you right now.

Yes. He’s talking to other companies in the same sweet tones he uses with you. It’s true.

Here’s how you know it’s true, dear reader:

You’ve done it yourself.

We all have. The thing about these profiles is that for different products, at different times, we’ll all fall into one profile or another. You’ve gone to an open house when you weren’t ready to move houses; you’ve spent 20 minutes with your local electronics guru just because you heard LCD screen were on their way out and you wanted to know what’s next, for when your tax return comes in next May; you’ve spent hours at your favorite band’s MySpace page without ever buying their new CD, seeing their world tour, or replacing the t-shirt you got from them in 1998. Yes, I know you have. You’ve been the Red Herring, just as I have: the staff time-suck who seems oh-so-informed, polite, and interested. You are interested, but you’re only at that “want” stage. If you’re a bit farther along, you might be at the “trying to convince yourself into a need” stage.

What can we do about the red herring?

Changing “future need” to “now need”:

It can be done. RH can be won over by a super-bargain, but slashing prices to grab this customer in a tough way to make sales.

Catching his eye:

Frequent links to your products or services within the text of your site. RH is not patient enough to figure your site out for you. To hook this slippery fish you’ll need to be at the ready wherever his eye lands.

Sales, Clearances, and Special Offers—online, in ads, in-store. Make ‘em so prominent that your designer screams for artistic mercy. If RH can’t see ‘em, he can’t be moved by ‘em.

Loyal?

No. Won’t remember you in five minutes.

Designing Maximum Customer Experience for RH involves:

Catching him off balance. Unexpected “wow” factor that pushes him over the edge.

or

The dreaded deep discount.

Pros:

There are a lot of Red Herrings in the world. If you’ve got the patience to woo him, if you’ve got the Wow factor in place, or if you’re willing to make him an offer that moves “future” to “why not now?” you’ll have a big advantage over the other poor saps he’s playing.

Cons:

RH is a chain-yanker. Time, money, and heart wasted, with no sure sale ahead. Need I say more?

Best bet:

Stay tuned for the second installment in Experience Design 201. In the meantime: be nice, be helpful, be clear about what you offer and why you’re the best choice, but don’t waste your heart’s efforts on RH.

Recognize the Red Herring? Is it you, or your customers?  😉

What do you do to move RH’s “future need” to “now”?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*In French, which I’ve been trying to wrap my tongue around for the last year or so, to go window-shopping is faire du lèche-vitrine, which translates to “to do some window-licking.” Eeew. But I never had any problem remembering that phrase! (Just thought I’d share.)

Staying Above the Fray, Part 1

Confidence is catching

If you want to end your worries about “the competition,” stop worrying about the competition.

When you start a game of tit-for-tat with the competition it’s a sure signal that you’ve forgotten why you are unique.

You have no competition if you remember that and stay confident in it.

If you forget your uniqueness, how can you expect your staff to rave about you with all their hearts?

If you forget, how can you expect your clients to feel invested in you, to want to be a part of your success?

How can you expect your Ideal Customer to remember that you alone provide the Ideal Solution to their problem if you’ve forgotten it yourself?

I’ll tell you a secret to being your own best salesman (or -woman). I first heard it in pick-up basketball games in Worcester, Massachusetts long ago, where every great player was selling, fully convinced there was no competition at all:

It ain’t bragging if it’s so.

When you know what’s so great about you, you’ll be able to pass that knowledge on through the company and beam it out to your customers and prospects.

There’s nobody else like you, no other company like yours. Figure out why that IS true. And swagger like you mean it.

Having a hard time with this one? Try bragging about your favorite restaurant. Is it your favorite because there’s no other food in the region? Or because there’s no other place that…  ???

There’s nobody else like your fave not because there is no place else to eat, but because in some other way, they have no competition. So as you get ready to swagger, your job is to figure out: Why does your own company have no competition?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Or, Eating my Own Dog Food

There’s a deal on the table.

I listen carefully, turn it around in my head. It’s seductive. I’m intrigued, I can’t deny it.

Fascinated, really. Boy, it’s tempting…

Just then Experience Designer Kelly sits down on my shoulder.

Have you thought about this? And this? What about that?

Thinks I should eat my own dogfood. Follow the same steps I advocate here at the Maximum Customer Experience Blog. Darn killjoy.

Or is she?

And that, dear reader, is when you walk in. She’s going to ask me the hard questions, and you can hardly wait to see the show.

When you’re starting a new venture or rethinking your stalled business, you need the devil’s advocate on your shoulder. You need someone to shoot your ideas full of holes while you keep plugging, until the idea is bulletproof. So no, I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but I’m going to walk you through a few of the issues my Experience Designer self brought up to my Go For It Blindly self.

If you see yourself here, stop. And fix the holes in your plan. Then walk through this startup planning guide again, with a bold smile. You’re almost ready for Maximum Startup Experience!

Will it work?

Will it work? How many people never stop to ask that fundamental question? Would you buy it? I’ve asked that question many times in meetings and had the person opposite me say “No. I wouldn’t.” If you’re not planning to provide something so awesome you can get behind it 100%, why are you doing it?

What is it?

Are you trying to be jack of all trades, and succeeding at being master of none? Focus like a laser beam. If you don’t know whether you are, get someone else to look at it. Chances are, you’re not.

Who’s it for?

Who’s the Ideal Customer? If you start your answer with “Anybody who…,” you’re wrong. Start again until you can picture the ONE person who can’t do without you, and everything about that one person, in vivid detail. (No. You’re not done yet. Hm? I just know.)

What triggers her on the day she’s got to have what you offer?

What does she search for? Think this out very seriously. Nobody searches in Google for the name of your company or the terms you commonly use in your field.

What’s bugging them? Trade secret: If you don’t know, throw a wad of cash at them and ask. Fifty bucks each for an hour of their time; pick three to five Ideal Customers’ brains by asking two critical questions—Are we solving problems that exist? and What would you dream of if you could make this company come true? $250 seems like a lot? Trying throwing your life savings (or a year’s worth of blood sweat and tears, for you bare-bones bootstrappers) into it and losing it all. Why every new business owner doesn’t survey potential clients or have their Experience Designer do it for them  😉  is beyond me. Best money you’ll ever spend.

Do the folks who need what you’ve got actually want it, and I mean desire it deep down in their guts, so they they will want to pay proper money for it?

How will you grow?

How will you promote it? “I’m gonna leave my light under a bushel-basket and hope people notice me” is NOT a marketing strategy.

How will you measure success? Put the plan in place before you throw one dollar out the window. “I want to sell 15 XYZs in a month, and grow at a 10% rate, and I will check conversion rates and abandonment rates every quarter to see if I’m achieving that.” Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Timed. There’s a reason the SMART acronym is such a well-worn cliché. If you’ll follow it, it works.

What’s so golldurned special about you?

Is anybody else doing it the way you will, in the place you will, for the customers you will do it for? Keep refining until the answer is No.

My friend Bob Hoffman says, “Marketers [and entrepreneurs —Ed.] always overestimate the attraction of new things and underestimate the power of traditional consumer behavior.” Are you doing something so remarkable that you can overcome his desire to do what he did yesterday?

In other words, what makes the Ideal Customer want you (besides how totally incredible you are and how much your Mom loves you) as opposed to some other solution?

Think you’ve got the answer to that one? Then ask yourself the ultimate question, the one that brings us all to our knees… What makes him want you, need you, exchange his cash for your awesomeness, as opposed to doing nothing?

One more question:

Do you love your concept, do you get goosebumps thinking about it (or gooseflesh, that’s okay with me), are you high on the potential? There are dark uglies ahead, dear reader—work you can’t imagine, criticism you didn’t see coming, and a lot of days without pay (sorry)—so if you haven’t got an intensely clear picture and a joy that a hurricane couldn’t dampen right now, maybe your new venture isn’t for you.

Experience Designer Kelly, sitting there on my shoulder, making sure that I plan this out and consider all the angles like I’d want you to do. Obsessed as always with designing small business success. Making me eat my own dog food, so to speak, so this shiny new adventure won’t one day look like a bowl of Alpo. She wants me to be an incredible, valuable, buzz-worthy resource for my clients, or go home.

Not such a killjoy after all.

Are you ready to be the Ideal Solution for your customer? Me, I’m just going to walk through this guide one more time while I’m considering this deal.

I want to hear from the devil’s advocate on your shoulder:

What else should we ask at the (re)start?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

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Do I Need You? Wow, Yes!

So you want to grow your business in 2009? This is the second in a sometimes-series at Maximum Customer Experience called Building Your Business. Read part one for a look at where you are right now: Building Your Business With a Map.

You’re committed to creating a better Customer Experience, because you know that your customers will be more loyal, buy more from you, and spread fantastic word-of-mouth about your company if their Experience with your company makes you one in a million.

Can you sell me in a sentence—or hook me so well I have to read the next one?

How about in a paragraph?

What if I give you three pages to get me drooling to hand you my money?

I’m a fan of full-fledged business plans—they force you to concentrate on the details that will ultimately determine the success of a great concept.

But let me tell you, if you think I’ll wade through a 45-page business plan hoping your idea will sink in eventually, you are crazy.

If you think I’ll listen to a half-hour pitch before knowing we’ll never do business you are similarly deranged.

First impressions count—and today I’m not talking about your attire or the look of your space.

I’m talking about your concept.

What the heck do you do and why would anyone give you money for it?

You’ve got one sentence to get me to care and a paragraph, max, to get me to want to do business with you—or to know someone who should. The rest of your plan is for you.

It doesn’t need to be hard-sell, folks. It needs to be clear. Eye-opening. And a dash of Wow, I NEED THAT—how come I never knew it before?

This isn’t just for new businesses. You can probably think of examples in your own town—businesses that have been around for a while, you see their ads in the local paper, you’ve driven by a million times, but you have no idea of what they do. Not having a tight, compelling concept is like throwing your time and money out the window. No matter what stage your business is at, you’ll spend time explaining yourself that should be spent solving customers’ problems, and money advertising to generate excitement that should be spreading by word-of-mouth.

If you don’t know how to get that for your plan, your website’s home page, and your elevator pitch, then you’ve got to work with someone who can help you find the Wow!

Or you’ve got to stop throwing your money out the window at your foggy dreams.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. If you’d like help getting your concept to Wow!, email me. I know it’s time for your business to grow in 2009!

Writing your opening sound-bite, Hollywood-style

Can the Mad Men who drive millions of moviegoers worldwide to plunk down 12 bucks to sit in a darkened theatre sharing a group Experience with strangers, teach you how to promote your business?

A great self-promotional sound-bite can be used in a brochure, on your website, or to finally put you at ease when you’re answering the dreaded “So what do you do?” Being able to sum up your irresistible value to a potential customer in a matter of seconds is a great start to providing Maximum Customer Experience.

These folks get paid a heck of a lot of money to write the words that will drive you wild with anticipation. Why not borrow their formula?

Do these coming attractions attract you?

5/29 – Up
Pixar follows up on their movies about gourmet rats and lonely robots with this flick about a grumpy old man and his balloon-powered floating house.

7/1 – Public Enemies
Johnny Depp stars as legendary bank robber John Dillinger and Christian Bale is the G-man on his tail in this true crime drama directed by Michael Mann.

11/6 – The Wolfman
Benicio Del Toro stars as a nobleman who, thanks to a werewolf bite, begins regular moonlit massacres of the local folk.

11/20 – Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr. brings the legendary London sleuth to life, with Jude Law as the faithful Dr. Watson and directed by Guy Ritchie.

12/25 – The Princess and the Frog
Disney presents its first traditional hand-drawn animated film in five years with a fairy tale set in New Orleans during the Jazz Age.

Let’s break it down:

  • BIG NAME (big concept, big draw)
  • Character (what the big name is there for)
  • Plot (what the character will be doing to hold our attention)
  • Little name (little draw, the closer)

Can we really do this?

  • GROWING YOUR BUSINESS
  • with buzz-worthy Customer Experience
  • is almost painless with research, design, and directions to drive your profits up—even in a down economy—
  • from VisionPoints, The Experience Designers.

My blockbuster:
Growing your small business with buzz-worthy Customer Experience is almost painless! with research, design, and directions to drive your profits up—even in a down economy—from VisionPoints, The Experience Designers.

Your turn!

Share your blockbuster intro below—have fun with this—or throw out a half-an-intro and your main idea, and let’s see if all our great MCE commenters can help you where you’re stuck!

These promo-bites are excerpted from Yahoo! MovieTalk’s Most Anticipated Movies of 2009.

By the way, can you spot one sound-bite that s*cks in the five Hollywood promotions above? I’ve got a candidate….

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. I’d love it if you’d take a moment today to Tweet, Stumble, other otherwise spread the word about this post (click on “share,” below).

The MCE sound-bite clinic is open for business, and I do hope you’ll help me prescribe some great tweaks!

These Guys Should Be

Every time I talk to those guys I feel like I need a shower,” whispers a friend last week.

Lunchtime, and he’d just managed to shoo the guys from the next building out of his office, after twenty excruciating minutes. “He talked on and on and I still have no idea and don’t care.” What’s my friend’s problem with the owners next door?

I guess the real estate thing didn’t work out. They don’t even have a sign anymore. This week it’s, ‘We’re doing an Internet thing now. And we do dry cleaning pickup. And we’re doing some custom framing, too.’ I almost asked, house framing or pictures?, but then I was afraid he’d answer. If he stayed one more minute I know he would have told me there’s a free set of Ginsu knives with every order.”

Can you hang a sign?

I’ve heard about them before but I don’t know any details. The thing that struck me is, how could they have a sign up? If they don’t have a focused Vision of what they do, what would they tell their designer to put on the sign?

You may have heard advice about having a different business card for each business you are involved in, or each situation you run into. Maybe these guys have heard it, too. They just come to talk to my friend, not to sell, but perhaps they have their pockets coded for sales situations (left front is real estate, right is Internet-thing, back left is dry cleaning, back right is framing…).

Three little words:

This is BAD.

You have lots of interests. You’re a Renaissance person extraordinaire. Great. You can’t do it all for a living.

Nope, sorry. You can’t.

How did my friend open that conversation? “Every time I talk to those guys I feel like I need a shower.” They make him feel slimy. They’re fly-by-night. They’re experts in nothing at all. If I gave them real-estate-thing dollars two months ago, and they’re picking up dry cleaning today, what happened to my dough? If I give them framing money today, but they’re feeling more like dry-cleaning-drivers, how high will the quality of their work for me be? Who would ever buy anything from these guys? Please, believe me: You can’t do it all for a living.

If you can’t fit it on a sign, forget it. You don’t have to have a sign (if you work from home you probably won’t, but if you’re not at home for heaven’s sake do get one designed now! Don’t hide your business from the world).

You have to get yourself out of the coded-pockets thinking, if you ever want to be taken seriously. One sign. One business card. ONE business.

No more commitment phobia

It’s time to walk down the aisle. Just you, and that special business. The one that you want to shout to the world: “I’m ready to spend more than just the next couple of weeks with this one!” You’ve flirted, you’ve courted, you’ve considered others, but you and I know that you’ve found The One, because you took these steps:

Find your thrill. Research, then focus like a laser. You’ve looked into it thoroughly. Maybe you’ve had help with this stage. (Need help?) You’ve found a real Pain Point that real people have, and that they have the money to fix. You provide their Ideal Solution.

Yes, knowing your Ideal Customer this well takes research. Do it before you throw your time and money out the window! If your business description involves the word “thing” (“real estate thing,” “Internet thing”), you are not done. Get outside Perspective.

Know what you love so well that no one else knows as much as you, within your target market. If you’re replaceable, you’ll be replaced sooner or later. Be the go-to expert.

Love what you do so much that you couldn’t possibly switch to some different business tomorrow if skies are cloudy. When you are committed, you’ll work it out. You’ll find a creative way to bring what you know and love (that Ideal Solution) to your Ideal Customer, because love (of your work) means doing whatever it takes. You have to be your number one brand Propheteer. Nobody should sing the praises of your business in quite the devoted tones that you do.

Haven’t taken those steps yet?

Are you still clinging to your commitment phobia? The aisle’s short and sweet, and there’s far more business on the other end. Take one little step at a time and your business will make more money:

I will find my thrill.

I will know what I love, and become The expert at it.

I do love what I do.

That didn’t hurt at all. You’re committed now, or re-committed if you’re an established business owner who’s gotten a little off track. I’ll see you around as your business grows, and I’ll be sure to throw some rice.

What would your sign say? Are you committed?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Can You Plan for Customer Joy?

I sat at lunch finishing a proposal today. I’m at my favorite bagel shop* where, if I weren’t so busy, I’d notice that I’m having a lousy time. The diet Coke, my caffeinated lifeline, is watery, and the Italian Chicken Panini, which I indulge in only when I can afford the kcals, is gummy with cheese and nearly devoid of chicken.

I eat half (no kcal worries at least), give up, and go back to writing. On the face of it this is not a plan for customer joy.

While I’m lost in my own head, a half an hour passes. The Manager offers to clear my table (why I love this place—a clear table to spread out my work! I’m always there at an off hours, not taking room from a needy eater, and they make a peaceful haven for me to think). I look up for just enough time to say Oh, sure, and dive back into the work.

Maybe he notices my food is half-eaten, maybe it’s just his routine, but he pauses a moment in silence. I look up again.

How was everything today?

I consider the work I’m trying to do right now, then the work of Maximum Customer Experience that I do every day, and though it’s unlikely to make it up the corporate chain I stop, and decide to very politely tell him that one of his most loyal customers who will not hold it against him permanently had a terrible time, now that you mention it.

He asks questions. He probes deeper. Was the flavor right, even though the proportions were off? Yes. He has a look of genuine concern on his face. He makes me feel that he will look right into it. Though I’m not into being known at the place, I suspect that I am regular enough that he knows me a little. I ask for no resolution and he doesn’t offer anything.

(Now that I think of it, that’s almost odd—managers seem to comp things as a knee-jerk reaction these days. I think he just actually cared, and was really listening. Hmm.)

Cynical me says: I don’t think corporate drilled this into him, and I think the conversation was entirely dependent on the individual standing in front of me.

Experience Designer me says: Does that mean that corporate can’t engineer this? No.

Get right on it, Einstein’s (and you readers, too). Engineer your human interactions. Plan this part of the Experience. That doesn’t mean scripting behavior: It means scripting outcomes. It’s not the words your employees use, but the delight they are able to give to customers and prospects, that counts. Make sure every member of your team is empowered to make the customer’s day better than when they walked in the door (or clicked on your site, or called you…).

Did he look right into the great Panini debacle? It (almost) doesn’t matter. I know it was probably just a fluke. He made me feel he would, and that’s what left this customer feeling good after eating subpar food. Writing again, about my favorite bagel shop.

Whether you’re a one-(wo)man band, or managing hundreds, what does your company do to encourage awesome (human) Interactive Experience? How do you plan for delighted customers?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*Einstein Bros., Marsh Road north of Wilmington, Delaware

Customer Experience in the Land of the Blue LilyPad

Part One: CommentLuv

Several weeks ago, a great new feature started popping up on blogs all over the Internet. The feature (aka plug-in, aka widget) is called CommentLuv, and I instantly wanted it, badly, for this very blog. I expected to see massive growth in comments on blogs that use it, and I wanted to be one of those. Creating a community here, sharing Experience Design stories, tips, and tricks is a big part of the big picture.

CommentLuv, to explain it briefly, encourages bloggers to comment by finding their own latest post and writing its title as a linked (clickable) footnote to their comment. You can see it in action (where I first did) here; it’s also in use here, and here.

Why is this bound to cause explosive growth? One, a bit of vanity (like everyone else, blog writers like to see themselves in the mirror). Far more importantly, publicity. If you are a blog frequenter this may shock you but many people do not know that clicking on a commenter’s’ name will take you to their website if they have one. Linking back to yourself within a comment, too often or too blatantly, is considered rather bad form. (I do it, but discretely, if I think it helps a conversation.) This plug-in promotes you without making it look gaudy, so that experienced and inexperienced readers will know not just that you have something to say elsewhere, but also that your latest post may have interest for them. Classic advertising: Attention, Interest; if the Desire is created by your post title, the clickable Action is right in front of the reader. Simple and glorious.

At the first place I saw it in action, I stopped and asked the author, David Airey, what that snazzy new feature was and where I could get it. He told me, and I sent an email off to the plug-in’s creator, drooling. This is when I found out it can’t be had for TypePad right now. The programming to work with TypePad was not of the kind he normally does, and he couldn’t get any useful help, so he’d decided against it.

I was not deterred. I asked a couple of programmers I know if they could help him out, but none of them had the specialized knowledge necessary.

I was not deterred. I opened a ticket and asked TypePad, since I couldn’t find anything on their Knowledge Base (FAQs) about how to contact them re: Rockin’ New Widgets They’ve Got to Make Available to Attract Customers With Cutting-Edge Features.

This is what I wrote:

Dear TypePad,

I am writing because there is a relatively new plug-in out there that I really believe you would like to know about. I found out about it a few days ago, wrote to the blogger whose site I saw it on, and then wrote to the plug-in’s creator….

The plug-in searches for a commenter’s most recent post (on their own blog), and creates an automatic link to it at the bottom of their comment, like a signature. You can see it in use on http://www.logodesignlove.com/ just click on any individual entry that has comments.

You can tell from the email [which was] below that I’m not in any way affiliated with the man who created the plug-in. I have no interest other than thinking that if TypePad could help this guy out with whatever knowledge he lacks to make it happen for TypePad, it could be a real boon to Typepad bloggers. Basically, I wish I could have the thing, because it’s a fantastic way to encourage comments! The two sites I’ve seen using it are getting comments like wildfire, which increases your blog’s standing, and who doesn’t want that!

… I hope you’ll consider helping this guy to get his cool plug-in to work on TypePad….

Regards,

Kelly

They wrote back, saying that Help couldn’t do anything, I should check their parent company’s FAQs.

I was not deterred. I checked said FAQs, discovered they were written in Klingon, and decided since at last I was in the correct place, I would write Six Apart (TypePad’s parent company). Here’s naïve: not only had I expected someone from TypePad Help to take the initiative and run down the hallway to the appropriate person and make this happen, whether it was technically their job or not, I still expected this from Six Apart.

This was their response:

Recently you requested personal assistance from Six Apart Support. Below is a summary of your request and our response.

Thank you for allowing us to be of service to you….

Hi Kelly,

Thanks for your message, … if you are looking for help for a developer on how he can get his plug-in working with TypePad, you would need to have him join the Six Apart Professional Network. [This is the place where Klingon is spoken.]

Thanks,

TypePad Technical Services
Six Apart, Ltd.

Very personal. Not going to make it happen, and don’t care if he makes it happen, either. Sorry, not seeking money-making, customer-delighting innovations at this time (or any other).

Finally, I was deterred.

You can not see CommentLuv in action on the Maximum Customer Experience Blog.   🙁

Part Two: Subscribe to Comments

So it’s Friday. I’m working on two projects at once, and I have four “little” personal (blog) projects planned for my loosely-termed “weekend,” it’s late afternoon, and I’m hungry. Taking five minutes off, I’ll just peek at Men With Pens, I say to myself. I get accidentally (?) involved in a long comment discussion, which I will not repeat here, during which one thing I meant to deal with long ago but never got back to is brought up: allowing commenters here at the MCE Blog to subscribe to comments. No problem, I say, everybody’s got that; before I even respond on MWP I’ll go get that taken care of…

Not.

All I could find in the Knowledge Base was info about getting an RSS feed for comments for your sidebar. Better than nothing, but not what I really want. Even that’s a process. It involves asking permission for TypePad to turn the thing on, so I wrote to them:

Help says, “open a Help Ticket to request that your account be enabled for comment feeds.”

So, please enable my account to have comment feeds. Thank you.

Because the one thing I can say is that the folks at TypePad do respond, they wrote back several hours later.

TypePad Customer Support said:

Hi Kelly,

Thanks for your interest in beta testing new features in TypePad. [Huh? The Knowledge Base did not say this was a “beta feature”?]

At this time, we are able to make the changes to your account that will allow you to see the new features. Please be aware that Advanced Templates and Mixed Media Layouts are not fully supported with these new features, so if you use or switch to either of these, you may experience problems.

If you notice any problems after we switch your account, please update this ticket and let us know as soon as possible.

Please respond to this ticket if you would like these changes to be applied to your account.

Thanks

I can’t make this stuff up. I wrote back:

Yes, I do want to be enabled for comment feeds. That’s what I wrote in the ticket I opened.

I already use Advanced Templates. Does this mean I can’t use comment feeds? What kind of “problems” might I experience?

No offense if you’re a person, but this feels pretty auto-generated since you’re asking me to ask for something I just asked for, and telling me that if I “switch to” Advanced Templates I may experience problems.

Thanks,

Kelly

Their response: *Crickets chirping.* [Granted, it is now the weekend. I expect this annoyance to continue in a day or two.]

It appears that I will be deterred again.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, I wrote to a person who might know a workaround:

I find it odd that comment-related improvements, which make blog readership jump through the roof, are not #1 priority. Getting email updates about comments is OLD everywhere else. It’s almost a sign that you’re on TypePad if you can’t subscribe. With CommentLuv, I thought they’d be climbing past me to help the author once they saw what it could do for their users/customers.

All this, to give readers incentive to comment, to make your Experience more engaging, and frankly to make me happier with TypePad (because successful blogging makes bloggers happier with their service). Their immediate customer is happier, and the customers (readers) of their customer are happier, too. I wish.

I have taken mild flak for staying with TypePad. I can code passingly well, I’m a designer, I’ve tweaked their Advanced Templates mercilessly since day one, so why am I here?

The plug-and-play aspect is a good part of it. I don’t have time to deal with the inner workings of the blog so I’m happy to pay someone else to. Fewer errors, no nitty-gritty. I can be a do-it-yourselfer and not find I’ve made one little boo-boo that takes down the whole function. That leaves me a few minutes for merciless tweaking.

They have been prompt and great about Help Tickets; even though their answer is not always right, they try again with good cheer, and I’ve mostly been able to get issues resolved. (However, the same person does not help you from start to finish of a ticket. Irksome.) Even at my level of coding knowledge I’ve got to be trying trickier stuff than most of their customers, so at the Help Desk their willingness to work on a problem until I’m satisfied is super.

I originally liked that a lot of high profile writers were using the service: if Seth Godin and Keith Ferrazzi and Church of the Customer are all happy, what’s not to like? Yes, cyber-WoM played a role. The little flaws seemed surmountable.

Why Doesn’t TypePad Want Your Comments?

Because I’m not their target customer. I think that’s what it boils down to. It appears that TypePad wants me to move on. I want rich features they don’t want to offer. I’m always trying to find ways into the code to make improvements.

I’m still happy I don’t have to build the mousetrap.

I’m loyal and I want to grow with TypePad, but they don’t want me to grow with them. They don’t want to reward readers for commenting. They don’t want smaller blogs to see explosive growth of community. Smaller, newbie-blogs are their bread-and-butter, and that’s who they’re looking at: undemanding, technologically challenged first-timers, who want up-and-running in a night (I liked that, too!).

The funny thing is, while I may be chafing because I know these improvements are readily available to other bloggers, even newbies’ blogs could benefit from email and RSS Subscribe to Comments, and CommentLuv. Like in any business, seeing measurable growth makes it easier to keep investing (time, energy, money) in the venture. Engaged readers and lively comments are the intangible “profits” of blogging.

Entropy rules, I do have real work to deal with, and sometimes it’s fun to try to create change from the inside, so I don’t know if I’ll be going anywhere just yet. Hey, maybe they’ll hear this. C’mon, TypePad, delight your customers!

Dos and Don’ts for Your Business:

Do provide robust FAQs on your website. For as often as I’ve had to open a ticket, I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t had to. It’s not always as beautifully organized as I’d like and can be hard to understand, but it’s very comprehensive. I’ll bet you don’t have near as many Frequently Asked Questions, so what’s stopping you?

Do make Customer Service prompt. TypePad always gets back to me fast.

Do make Customer Service as satisfaction-guaranteed as Sales. Your current customers find a lot of your new customers for you, if they’re happy, and believe it or not, I’m generally happy with TypePad.

Don’t disregard trends in your industry. You don’t have to jump on every bandwagon, but if the parade passes you by, all but the most loyal customers will follow it.

Don’t ignore growth opportunities your loyal customers attempt to throw in your lap. (This will not happen to you very often, so go for it!) At the very least, if there’s a reason you can’t pursue it, tell the vocal customer why not, with no corporate-speak.

Don’t let your hierarchy become so rigid that staff with great ideas can’t find their way to your Innovation Department. Empower everyone.

Do remember: Your problem is selling your Solution (to increase your revenues). My problem is [growing my business, finding great employees, making my kids/spouse/dog happy, looking sharp in the morning, getting to work on time, finding a new restaurant to impress a client, wanting a good night’s rest away from home, growing my blog readership…] whatever. Solve my problem and you’ll solve your own.

What do you think? Can you miss an opportunity for growth by focusing too closely on what’s worked in the past? Is TypePad losing ground, or just Pinpointing their target market?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Is Keeping it Fresh, Mixing You Up?

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

NOT.

A lot of businesses I’ve worked with are procedure-avoidant. Is it a fear of the difficulty of writing processes down? A desire to “mix it up” or “keep it fresh”? Are they worried about the hobgoblin?

You can’t afford the fear of having a procedural manual, graphic and interiors standards, an employee website—whatever your size firm needs to stay utterly consistent. Call it a roadmap, as we do at VisionPoints. You can’t go forward without clear, written processes. Your day-to-day processes may bore you if you do them the same way every day, but to your customers, that is top-of-the-mind gold.

It Is the Little Things That Count

Think back: When was the last time you went to a restaurant where water was on the table, without your requesting it, and refilled when empty or close, without requesting it? For me it’s been over a year since that happened! I don’t go to the “very best” places daily (though I do occasionally). This is something the very medium-est places could do with little expense and provide delight to their customers. These days water on the table at a restaurant without having to ask is so unusual as to be remarkable; so (a) do it and (b) do it always, in the same way. You will be remembered for it.

At the Panorama Motel, there are procedures to make sure they get the pen in just the same place every time on the desk, and the pillows turned the exact same way each time. Some hotels make sure there are chocolates on the pillow; some turn down your sheets at a precise time daily.

How about on the phone? When answering the phone, have a written procedure right in front of your receptionist—no errors, no “umm”s, no worries if someone else has to fill in. So much more professional, memorable, remarkable!

Free to Overpromise and Overdeliver

  • Your written procedures

… offer consistency and clarity to your employees, reducing stress and man-hours. If it’s all “so easy a monkey could do it,” then everyone knows what’s expected and can operate with fewer question marks above their heads. Staff is freed to get creative about delivering exceptional Experiences for your customers.

  • Your standards manual

… offers visual consistency so decisions about new materials, ads, and additions to your physical space are no-brainers: Do a new, brash ad in a youth magazine? Let’s see if it fits with the plan. Finishes for the new signage? Keep them in line with the overall vision.

Little minds in business fly by the seat of their pants, wasting time and money. That’s the true hobgoblin. Consistency is the Good Witch of progressive thinking in business, freeing staff and management for bigger issues.

Embrace written procedures. Involve your staff, and get started creating yours now, to grow your business and create awareness of your consistently great (Maximum!) Customer Experience.

What procedures could help your firm most? Share your ideas for creating customer loyalty through consistent procedures here!

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Are You Ready to Be a Visionary?

This is part eleven of 13 in the Experience Design 101 series. For links to all the articles in this series, click here.

Not much happens without a dream.

And for something great to happen,

There must be a great dream.”

—Robert K. Greenleaf, former Director of Management Research for AT&T (from his book Servant Leadership, 1977)

In an affectionate biographical spot on Turner Classic Movies, Gary Cooper’s daughter Maria Cooper Janis says that her father knew what the public expected of his work. “Just make me the hero,” he told writer Niven Busch, “and everything will be fine.” Cooper clearly had the Vision to see the whole arc of his career pretty early on, and it gave his film roles a cohesive feeling that contributed to his stardom. We know what to expect when we think of classic film stars such as Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Cooper. Far from seeing this as typecasting, they saw it as part of maintaining a strong connection with their audience.

Cooper’s Model for Business Development

Call it Cooper’s model for business development. In part five we talked about crafting a Vision statement and finding your Purpose. With your research and planning backing you up, now envision how you want your company’s future to arc. Concentrate on that arc to connect with your audience of customers and prospects. As Stephen Covey wrote, “… [in] business…. the extent to which you begin with the end in mind often determines whether or not you are able to create a successful enterprise.” Write out every aspect of this arc. When you get typecast by the public, you don’t want to be surprised. You want to be able to point to your Vision and know that you’ve been typecast as the leaders in what you provide, because you aimed for it with Pinpoint precision and carefully made it happen.

In your business, this precise aim will guide your actions (Does this activity or offshoot fit with our Vision?) and provide benchmarks (Are we reaching the market we’ve Pinpointed? Are we providing the ideal solution that creates great Customer Experience?). Gary Cooper may have known what he was aiming for, but some of his quirky early roles show it took some time for him to align his strengths and goals, with the road he was on.

A Visionary Leader

“Me? A Visionary leader?” you say. Many owners of smaller businesses are initially uncomfortable in this role. Here’s where your planning pays off: A clearly defined and executed Vision is the hook that gets you, your staff, your customers, and prospective customers excited about and involved in your success. A Pinpointed definition and direction for your firm creates loyal fans, and makes introducing yourself and your business easier. When you take on the responsibility of being a Visionary for your firm, you’ll share your secret instead of “prospecting” or “networking,” knowing that you have a unique offering of value to others.

Your enthusiasm can make Visionaries of others, too: Think of Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos, with their infectious energy and unshakeable belief in helping customers with their offerings. Their devotees preach about Apple and Amazon as fervently as any Gary Cooper fan ever told a friend, “You’ve got to go see Sergeant York. What an experience!”

The Best Customer Experience

Ready? Be a Visionary. It’s an adventure in left-side-of-the-brain planning and right-side creativity. Having that Vision in place is a lot less risky than running a company, gambling your future, without the end in mind. Pinpoint your goals, your strengths, your customers’ needs, and your ability to deliver. Position your firm to align with your Vision across all aspects of customer experience, and get your customers saying, “You’ve got to try this new company. They were so focused on getting me what I needed. They’re the best at what they do, and it’s a great experience dealing with them.”

 

Quien no se aventura, no pasa la mar.”

—Proverb [“He who has no adventures, cannot cross the sea.”]

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

Next up in the series: Part Twelve: How to put Experience Design to work, today: 11 Tips

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