Marketing blogger Joseph Jaffe’s new book. “Flip The Funnel” preaches some of the same new religion we do at Consumerist and uses as examples some of our favorite stories, like United Breaks Guitars and boogers in the Domino’s. Joe is all about how customer service should be the first thought, not an afterthought. He warns how if companies don’t stop being like Delta and start being like Zappos, if you don’t make retention the new acquisition, social media will kill you. I like Joe’s rap and I happily agreed to pen the forword, and I thought I’d share the results with you:
“I had a simple question for eBay about one of their policies. A simple, specific, question. So I sent them an email. They sent me back an email. It was obviously preforumulated, although it started with my name. That’s great. Awesome! They know my name! How did they do that? And it was a pretty great looking email. High-fives around the conference room when they banged that one out. It was chock-full of helpful information and there were so many different questions it could have answered. They probably thought it was super efficient, because you have one thing that does all these different things. Unfortunately, out of all the questions it answered, none of them was mine. I asked for an apple, they gave me an orange, and I’m supposed to be happy because it’s a fruit. Now, to make matters worse, after getting this non-helpful email, I wrote back to say hey, you didn’t answer my question. They didn’t respond to this second email, but they did send me a survey. They wanted me to rate my interaction. And I’m like, awesome. So I’m going through this survey, checking off every box to say, “You guys suck, and you suck, and you suck and you suck.” And in the middle of the survey, it malfunctions. Their customer service is so bad that it even gets wrong me telling it how bad it is.
Processing is not solving. If a supposed solution uses automation to get through more of your customer input faster while fixing fewer problems, it’s not a solution, it’s a failure.
The reason why customer service is so horrible these days is that it’s not a machine for making widgets. This hasn’t stopped businesses from judging it like it is. Companies see customer service as debit on the balance sheets. A call center is a cost center. Instead of seeing the future profits that can accrue from happy customers, companies want to cut cut cut. In the name of efficiency, people who can’t even understand the English words they’re speaking are representing brands in crucial customer engagements. Are you really going to abdicate the last mile of customer interaction, the one where most problems, and stories for Consumerist.com, of which I’m the co-Managing Editor, arise to a population of low-paid, disenfranchised workers with zero career potential within the company and no stake in the brand and an average turnover rate of just a few months? In the pursuit of next-quarter profits, too many companies have said “yes.”
If you bought what you thought was a new microwave and came home to find the box full of wet towels instead of a microwave, you can easily say, “This is a rip-off.” It gets harder when you’re evaluating business practices. They come with bubbly corners, everything looks so pleasing and professional, everyone wears a tie and all the “policies” are clearly explained in nanoscopic print. That doesn’t change what lies there once you cut away all the fat and gristle. We call it a scam. They call it a business plan.
The worst thing about the edicts of the Church of Churn and Burn isn’t that they’re “mean” or violate some whitepaper’s thumb suck on “best practices,” it’s that it makes less money. The avowed justification for being a jerk, profits, doesn’t even hold its own water. This notion of get the customers in the door, get as much money as you can from them, then toss them out the back and launch your next marketing campaign to get the next batch of suckers, is dead. It might have worked when you could just bombard consumers into submission with enough repetitions of you 30-second spot, but consumers are getting the real scoop from each other with unprecedented ease, breadth and depth. The internet has accelerated word-of-mouth to the degree that one reader’s customer service horror story can go from Consumerist.com to the tops of social news networks to major news outlets in just a few days. How cost-effective did you say was the idea of firing all your experienced floor employees and replacing them with raw recruits, Circuit City, R.I.P.?
You’re probably being ripped off at this very moment and you don’t even know it. Have you seen what your frequent flyer miles are worth lately? Probably a lot less than when you signed up. Everywhere we turn, companies are pulling back from the value they offered when you signed the contract and handed over your payment, and leaving fees and restrictions in their wake. Gift cards whose value dwindles over time. Credit card payment due dates getting shorter and shorter. Customers with one late payment on their credit card having their interest rates shoot up to the highest the law allows. Impossible to fulfill warranty repairs. Overdraft fees completely disproportionate to their cost. Health insurance coverage denied for the flimsiest of reasons. The list goes on.
A number of false prophets say they have the answer. It’s almost rote that each iteration of “new marketing 2.0 get jiggy with the internets” advice uses as its proof of concept some story about how there was this one guy who absolutely loved this company’s – let’s say hats – and every time he got on the plane he would tell people how these hats rock. He sent in his ideas on how to make hats even better and rather than not even reading what he wrote or responding with a form letter and some free coupons, the hat company sent him more free hats and incorporated some of his suggestions in their future designs. Yay, see how treating your customers nicely and using their feedback works. This is groundbreaking research? I always thought the secret of business was figuring out what people need and selling it to them. Apparently, others hold different opinions. They’ve opted to build entire empires based on telling people what they want and then selling it to them. It works, until people stop listening. You can’t tell people what to do if they’re not listening. Well, it’s not that they’re not listening; they’re just getting their information from a lot more sources. Sources that are faster, better, and independent. In this new environment where customers demand instant accountability, your street cred is priceless.
Surely there must be a way to bridge the gap between us and our customers. Jaffe’s book seems a pretty good place to start. He gets that customer service is marketing, and that marketing is listening. As he details, it might take under a minute to ruin a customer’s opinion of your company, but Google will remember their blog post forever. Crisis mitigation is but just the first step, though. Using social media to put out PR forest fires is one thing, but can you cultivate bonfires of customer joy?
Through success stories like USAA, Zappos, and the Obama campaign, Flip the Funnel demonstrates how leading edge marketers are authentically engaging with their customers and building long-term relationships, relationships that can live through and past economic downturns. With insight, enthusiasm and real-world examples, Jaffe illuminates the philosophies and techniques marketers need to be using to survive in a world where the communications playing field is flattening and average citizens are seizing power and dictating the terms of what gets paid attention. Not only is marketing no longer one-way, it’s not even two-way. It’s a conversation between you, me, and everyone I’m talking to about what we’re talking about. Sure social media is a huge part of the equation, but you can’t just slap your company on Facebook and expect to start a revolution. As Jaffe shows, it’s not which tools you use, it’s how you use them, and why.
In this book, Jaffe proves how by making customer experience paramount, retention becomes the new acquisition. This is the “flip” of the traditional “marketing funnel” that forms the basis for this book’s title. Within he reveals how some of the most exciting and inspiring organizations are shifting the marketing model so that they start with the sale rather than ending with it. After all, if activated brand advocates are your best form of advertising, do you really need more advertising? Or do you just need a better way of relating to your customers?