2019 Re-Imagine Review

By Mike Bowling, Conduit Global

Legend has it that the site of this year’s SOCAP conference is the “very spot” where the Tohono O'odham Indians and Apache Indians signed a war treaty at an afternoon cookout. The Tohono O'odham Indians could keep a mountain as their home, unopposed by the Apache if, in return, they taught the Apache how to farm and prosper from the land.

What a perfect metaphor for SOCAP’s 2019 Re-Imagine conference...which brought together, as always, an exciting mix of brands and business partners to learn from each other; share best practices, friendship, and support; and ensure that we all prosper in our noble profession to deliver a superior customer experience. It was great seeing everyone in Tucson last week and I am looking forward to meeting up again at April’s Professional Development Conference in Indianapolis, another perfect location BTW, because... our industry is moving FAST!!!

There were over 100 brands and 65+ business partners in attendance. “Hot Topics” of the day included:

  • The Rapid Pace of Digital Transformation—We’ve gone from awareness (AI and BOTs exist, let’s start testing) to acceptance and, for many of us, assimilation within the past 12 months as our increasingly more demanding consumers seek digital self-service, a true Omni-channel experience, and no longer think twice before snapping a picture (and sharing a bad experience) across multiple social sites. It’s amazing how quickly SOCAP members have adapted in such a short period of time. Whereas many of last year’s technology sessions were more “what is” and “how to” focused (regarding AI), this year’s focus was on “what’s next” and how rapidly our world is changing. Winning organizations today need to strike the right balance between digital channels and the “human touch” to stay ahead of the curve. We heard from Ford Futurist Sheryl Connelly, who predicted that technology will innovate by a factor of 10x’s between now and 2035, relayed the scary fact that our attention spans have decreased by 35% in the last 15 years (because of all the noise), and then shared some tips to gain clarity (and differentiation) amidst the chaos. We heard similar things from Technology Expert Scott Klososky during a spotlight session regarding the impact of HUMALOGY (the blending of humans and technology) on customer care. Scott suggested reviewing all customer care call types with an eye toward where they fit on the humalogy scale (H5 = needs high touch humans, T5 = can be fully automated), automating where you can and, introducing new KPIs to appropriately track efficiencies (revenue per employee for example), but that, “whew,” there is still plenty of room for “us humans.” We’ll just become smarter and more specially trained over time to handle high-touch (H5) human transactions more efficiently. Collectively, our technology speakers agreed that, by 2050, 40–50% of our work will be handled by BOTs...but that these efficiencies will also create more (and higher skilled) jobs. We continuously adapt!
  • “Blocking and Tackling” Still Critical to Winning—From John Goodman’s always on the mark research (i.e., technology cuts costs, but fixing the source of complaints drives revenue) to some interesting case studies on how Sportsman’s Guide and Wiley publishing moved the needle on CSAT (moderated by Bob Azman)...to how critically important responding in the appropriate brand voice is to ultimate satisfaction, a case study presented by Bayer and E-Write. It was refreshing to see (despite the fact that today’s technology has literally changed our brains) that good ole “blocking and tackling” is still critical to success. But today’s consumer definitely values their time (sometimes more than money), so self-service “transactions” should always be an option. They still want to feel the “Know Me, Help Me, Value Me” vibes from the brands they interact with, or they will take their business elsewhere. When’s the last time you called your own 800 number to ensure the IVR is working appropriately? Technology is awesome, but it can break. Never lose sight of the basics!
  • You Got This!!!—From the Wizard of Oz themed message that opening keynote speaker Bruce Turkel conveyed (you had it in you all along) to the seven-year journey that author Alex Banayan described to close the show (there is always a path to success if you persevere), there was plenty of personal motivation moments at SOCAPs Re-Imagine Conference...which is always a nice balance to all of the great ideas we feverishly jot down at every conference. In a nutshell, by simply being here, learning two or three new ideas, and implementing them upon return, you stay well ahead of the curve. You got this!!!

Keynote and Spotlight Sessions:

SOCAP always does an excellent job in bringing in knowledgeable, relevant, and energetic keynote speakers for its general sessions, and the keynote sessions at this year’s annual conference did not disappoint.

Monday Morning Keynote Speaker (Future-Proof Your Business and Your Brand)—Bruce Turkel, international marketing expert and author of “All About Them,” was a great choice to kick off this year’s conference because, while he acknowledged the fact that we’re seeing a revolution in how we do business today (our competition is now global, consumers share bad experiences via social media every day, knowledge is power but is also confusing)...he gave us some practical tips to break through the noise (and to reposition our brands for success) in the new economy.

He started with a history lesson on how our customer’s perception of brands have changed:

  • We used to base most purchasing decisions on function (a good car gets us from Point A to Point B safely)

  • Function is now “table stakes.” Today, it’s all about how you make the customer feel!

  • A good brand makes people feel good but a great brand makes them feel good about themselves”

Whereas a Mercedes Benz ad in the past focused on durability (function), today’s marketing (and features) focus more on status (perception) so that the brand makes people feel good about themselves. Keys are designed larger than the typical key so that when valeting your car, people notice the Benz. Hit the key button, and there is a delightful chirp, again drawing attention to “I’m the owner of the Benz.” Brands help consumers tell the world who they are and why they matter. It’s all about them!!

He then provided some great examples of how “more feelings, less facts” can be a true differentiator:

  • GBMs (goose bump moments) is what you should strive for as you future-proof your brand!
  • Remember, it’s all about perception of value. Sometimes the smallest things can drive a “goose bump moment.”
    • Everyone knows that almost any gift in a Tiffany box is worth way more because of the box.
    • The box is the present. It makes the recipient feel special and adds 40% more value to the present
  • Nordstrom personally walks each purchase around the counter and hands it to the customer.
    • It doesn’t cost them anything but a minute of time but drives higher perceived value. Customers feel special.
  • A wedding ring is only worth its weight in gold, but its perceived value is astronomically higher!
    • Brings its user back to (if all goes well) one of the happiest days of their life.
  • When asked by anyone how long he’s been married, Bruce’s standard reply is “not long enough.”
    • In truth, it’s his personal trick to ensure he never forgets.
    • In reality, that answer elicits AWWS (and GBMs) from every women in the room.
  • How to ensure your brand makes customers feel good about themselves is key.

Bruce wrapped up with a colorful story, and some closing tips, to help us all begin to re-image our brands.
Complete with the ooh ee ooh’s (to depict the marching soldiers), Bruce recapped the story of his favorite childhood movie (The Wizard of Oz) to the crowd, ending with, as I’m sure we all remember, Glinda (The Good Witch) telling Dorothy, “You've always had the power, my dear. You’ve had it in you all along.”

All of us know the value of our brands. We just have to find a way to translate that to customer perception!
Lexus’ tagline is “the relentless pursuit of perfection”...but they’re not talking about the car. It’s the customer pursuing their dreams for upward mobility.

Doesn’t matter so much these days what the brand does, but how the brand makes you feel.
Yes, Starbucks sells coffee, but what they really sell is a “third place” for you to hang out, work, and/or relax. Domino’s sells pizza, but what they really sell is “last minute solutions.”

What do you truly sell?

Monday Afternoon Keynote Session (Global Consumer Trends)—Sheryl Connelly, Futurist at Ford Motor Company, filled our afternoon with some seriously compelling information on the rapid pace of technology innovation and some scary projections about our world in general, but also plenty of hope and some practical tips for how to leverage this rapid pace of change to differentiate ourselves (and solve new and emerging problems) in our world.

She began with some general tips on how to “think like a futurist” including:

  • Don’t be afraid of the future; don’t rely on traditional SWOT analysis alone (because consumers are in control).
  • It’s better to be generally right (and act) than precisely wrong (and wait).
  • You need to be provocative (look at wildcard analysis) but plausible.
It’s important to always be challenging the status quo, to tweak the way we see the world in order to find new opportunities, but to also be realistic in our projections.

She continued with some facts and long-term trends:

  • The world population was 1.5 billion in 1900, is 7 billion today, and is projected to be 9 billion by 2040.
    • Our water supply cannot support projected population unless we all become vegetarians.
    • Most growth will occur where people are not best equipped to handle it.
    • Some African women and children walk three hours per day for their daily water supply.
  • The aging population is our greatest challenge, and the extent of the problem varies by country.
    • When Social Security began, there were 44 workers for every retiree. Today there are TWO!
    • China has a 4/2/1 dilemma, an unexpected consequence of their one child policy.
      • People everywhere are living longer.
      • Today’s children in China are financially responsible for 2 parents + 4 grandparents.
    • India, by contrast, is the youngest population.
  • Urbanization is here to stay. 50% of people today live in cities, and more mega-cities are on the horizon.
  • Technology innovation will increase by 10x's over between now and 2035.
    • To put this in perspective, today’s $1,100 iPhone would cost $1.00 in 2035.

She outlined marketplace trends and what consumers want today...
There are four types of consumption driving consumers today, beyond basic needs: (1) material (express social status), (2) experiences (e.g., travel), (3) enrichment (e.g., sommelier) (4) ethical consumption (a real biggie). Toms and Patagonia have historically benefited from their ethical approach. Recently, the NBA (Hong Kong), Starbucks (Black Lives Matter), Delta Airlines (NRA) have not. If you don’t have one already, proactively put a plan in place regarding your stance on ethics.

Consumers today want:

  • To save time—seamless transactions; too many options (choice fatigue) drives depression.
  • To save money—we’re predictably irrational. We’ll buy a $600 pair of shoes on Black Friday if perceived as a bargain.
    • Many decisions are made with emotion first and then logic, but we need context to understand value.
    • $600 shoes, for example, were $1,500 to begin with and were marked down dozens of times.
  • Rich experiences—the reason Starbucks can charge way more for coffee than McDonald’s.
  • To be delighted and surprised—Sephora has an online “virtual face” to test the look of cosmetics, as an example.
    • Another example is a men’s suit, ordered online, but delivered “last mile” by a tailor to ensure proper fit.
  • Trust in the marketplace—consumers want consistency, but if you raise the bar even once, they’ll always expect it.
    • Sheryl personally loved being a Gold member of her airline (they always knew her name/gave her special treatment).
    • Now she’s a Silver member and is disappointed, because she’s not getting the Gold treatment.

Consumers today also LOVE storytelling. The key is doing the right things for your brand to ensure the storytelling is good.

Tuesday Morning Keynote Interview with Todd Johnson (Bed, Bath, & Beyond)—In an hour-long Q&A session, moderated by Tom Asher at BioTwist, we were treated to the real-world challenges companies face when they grow complacent but also the exciting results they can quickly achieve when they honestly assess strengths and weaknesses and put accountable action plans in place to right the ship.

Todd Johnson, a 22-year veteran and now president of BBB and the Christmas Tree Shops, talked through the company’s history (started by two brothers, each with their own retail store); the decentralized model that initially made them so successful (products shipped directly to stores, different mix by store, local managers drive success); and the recent market factors (dwindling profits, did not invest well in omni-channel) that are helping them transform.

Todd’s message was essentially to “never get complacent,” to embrace new ideas (and change), and to listen to your customers because they’ll always tell you, with actual feedback (or actions) how you are trending. Todd is happy to report that a business transformation team has been brought in to ensure that appropriate changes are being implemented as designed (e.g., new store formats, cleaner stores, less clutter/better mix of merchandise, upgraded ecommerce tools, new loyalty program). From the experience, he recommends “not shooting for perfection, but always shooting for change.” Paralysis by analysis is a real thing. You’ll never be perfect, but if you don’t start changing, you’ll never improve.

Overall, it was a fascinating “behind the scenes” look at a company we all know well and of one whose coupons we all have stashed away somewhere handy for our next visit to their store. They’ve embraced change and are repositioning themselves to grow and prosper in the new retail economy.

Tuesday Afternoon Keynote Speaker (The Third Door)—In the closing session of the conference, Alex Banayan, bestselling author of The Third Door captivated all of us with his emotional seven-year journey to uncover how some of the world’s most famous and successful people (e.g., Larry King, Lady Gaga, Quincy Jones) launched their careers. While a freshman at college seeking a pre-med career his parents selected for him, Alex realized he was on the wrong path; so began his journey towards enlightenment. He failed often, he got dejected (like all of us), but he kept getting himself back up again and eventually interviewed the people in his book and documented the secrets of their success.

Here are a few nuggets of the wisdom he imparted. Definitely makes you want to buy his book. I already did!

There is a common melody to success. Trial and error (lots of it) and persistence are critical elements.
Alex relayed the many attempts, epic failures (like trying to interview Warren Buffett in the middle of a public shareholder meeting—awkward), and colorful stories along the way that eventually led to him securing interviews with (and wisdom from) some pretty famous people. He learned the following:

There is always a third door—Highly successful people fail too! They just never give up...until they find the third door, the secret way in to finally getting their shot. Alex said “It’s kind of like trying to get into a nightclub.” There is always (1) the main entrance where everyone waits around the block, (2) the VIP entrance where you’re just born into special treatment, and (3) the third “secret” door in the back of the building, through the kitchen, over the river and through the woods. All of the successful people Alex interviewed persevered until they found that third door.

You define your own success (and happiness)—Highly successful people understand (and embrace) what success means to them. Alex interviewed Apple co-founder Steve Wazniak for his book. Steve Jobs, his more famous partner, offered him “any title” he wanted in their newly formed company, but he didn’t want any title beyond “engineer” because success (and happiness) to him equated to (a) building things with his hands and (b) being happy. I’m sure the money didn’t hurt, but the point is that success is a mindset. There is always a way!

  • On persistence, Alex states “you have as many at bats as you are willing to give yourself.”
  • On failure, his advice is to learn from it constantly. You grow when you cherish your mistakes.
  • The opposite of success is not failure, it’s not trying.
  • You need to change what you believe is possible.
  • Good stuff!

General Session Notes:
SOCAP always does an excellent job to ensure its breakout sessions have strong, relevant content and to organize sessions by track (e.g., Tech, Care, etc.) for those at the conference specifically seeking help in one functional area. There were five tracks at this year’s conference: Track I (Re-Imagining Intersection of Customer Care and Marketing), Track II (Strategic Leadership), Track III (Re-Imagining the Relationship of Interconnected Businesses), Track IV (Applied and Emerging Technologies), and Track V (Special Topics), which this year was all about the California Consumer Protection Act.

Here are some notes from the sessions I attended:

Monday Morning (Track III): How Bayer Consumer Health Kicked Up Communications for Improved Customer Experience—Very interesting session jointly presented by Bayer and E-Write to detail their ongoing initiative to ensure written correspondence (e.g., emails, social media) takes “brand voice”’ into account. Brooks Brothers is known as a professional, high-end, formal brand, for example, so its recent Twitter response to a compliment, “we are delighted to hear about...let us toast to your success,” was very appropriate, whereas Geico (a playful brand that promises ease of use) was “not on the money” with one of its recent Twitter replies, coming across as “stiff and unyielding,” definitely not consistent with the brand. If there is a “disconnect in the brand voice” when replying to consumer inquiries, it causes cracks in the relationship. Our consumers are disappointed and often think to themselves. “Wow, I thought I knew you” and can even grow more frustrated beyond the reason for their initial complaint.

After setting the stage, we learned some practical tips for revamping communication using the brand’s voice:

Start with the power of E3 (1) empowerment (builds trust), (2) empathy (builds authenticity), engagement (really listen) to begin improving your communications. You MUST have a genuine empathy statement in all written communications, and you MUST effectively train agents so they can practice and refine this new writing style.

Before making the change, Bayer responded to one complaint from a Dr. Scholl’s Foot Spray customer with a standard form letter (legally approved, of course) thanking the customer for their feedback and promising to share the issue (faulty spray, stopped working, product wasted) with their team. No apology, didn’t address the issue, rigid response inconsistent with the brand voice. After making the change, this same customer would have received a letter vastly different, one that apologized with empathy and that utilized humor (the brand voice) to keep that customer happy (e.g., “We’re so sorry. We don’t want your son to have stinky feet. Please accept a coupon. Looking forward to helping you continue your foot relief in the future”).

Of course, making the change requires some hard work initially...

  • If you don’t already have it, find/immediately absorb, the contents of your brand voice guide from marketing.
  • Review and revise (with appropriate brand voice) your top 10 most frequently utilized letter templates.
  • Produce a brand voice writing style guide for training purposes (best words, bad words, rules of engagement).
  • Train your agents; deploy initially with a supervisor to review each letter before it’s released.

In early testing, however, it’s been well worth the effort.

  • AHT does increase, but so do compliments and compliments = brand loyalty.
  • Agents feel empowered and have more fun, and it comes through to the consumer with better responses.
  • NOTE—If you start small (even 10% of the letters you use the most) you’ll see a major impact.
  • Get legal involved early so they gain buy-in before making the switch.

Monday Afternoon Session (Track III): Creating the Business Care for CX and Technology Using VOC—Very strong rapid-fire session filled with lots of John Goodman’s research on the customer experience and several compelling case studies where, using VOC, companies like Hughes Network Systems (who co-presented) are moving the needle on CSAT in a positive direction.

Customer onboarding in particular (i.e., taking the time to honestly educate new customers about the product or service they’ve just purchased and about the tools at their disposal to answer questions that may arise) was a specific area of focus.

One Nevada Credit Union, for example, takes a full 15 minutes with every new customer (especially elderly consumers) to help them sign up for their app, show them how to use it, and detail the various ways they can use it for customer care requests in the future. For new customers, Hughes Network Systems plays the video "All About the Satellite Experience," during the on-site installation process. The video honestly conveys the fact that weather (and sheer distance of signal transfer) can and will impact, at times, how quickly customers download or upload information. Both initiatives proactively reduce future calls to the customer care team, well worth the extra time and costs up front.

John covered the five main objectives of Voice of the Customer: (1) Emerging Trends, (2) Take Action Now, (3) CSR Performance, (4) Continuous Improvement in Contact Center, and (5) Continuous Improvement in the Company. He re-affirmed how critically important “making it easy for the customer to complain” is to ongoing continuous improvement, cost reduction, and revenue attainment and then detailed the eight quantifiable areas of tech impact on the customer experience.

  1. Proactive onboarding education via multiple channels (e.g., funny instructional video)
    1. Drives confidence/trust
    2. Reduces problems by 15%
    3. Leads to higher revenue/margins and lower service cost
  2. Proactive communication and self-service tracking (e.g., shipping status, confirmed appointments)
    1. Drives confidence/reduces uncertainty/reduces contacts/higher value for price paid
    2. Leads to higher margins and lower costs
  3. Early notification of problem with alternative solutions (e.g., proactively communicate flight delays)
    1. Drives less negative surprises/provides more time for contingency planning
    2. Reduces damage to loyalty/emotional impact
    3. Leads to higher WOM/problem resolution
  4. Just in time education (e.g., education on how to extend care reservation)
    1. Drives self-service/higher convenience
    2. Reduces problems
    3. Leads to higher value/higher loyalty and value for price/ lower costs
  5. Empowerment of CSRs with higher resolution (e.g., flexible options to recover)
    1. Drives higher resolution with ease
    2. Reduces CSR turnover/increases first call resolution/decreases escalations
    3. Leads to enhanced revenue/lower HR costs due to turnover/more employee referrals
  6. Self-service (e.g., top five issues on home page of website based on recent workload, videos)
    1. Drives ETDBW (easy to do business with)/enhanced customer knowledge
    2. Reduces problems/increases loyalty and value paid for price/increases ETDBW
    3. Leads to enhanced revenue/lower service costs
  7. Actionable Voice of the Customer (e.g., identify emerging trends/process failures)
    1. Drives faster action/process redesign/staff efficiency
    2. Reduces problems/process failure and surprises
    3. Leads to retained revenue and lower attrition/increased positive WOM
  8. Fun and delight (e.g., humorous videos, AFLAC duck on IVR)
    1. Drives engagement and more visits/differentiation/positive WOM
    2. Increases delight occurrence/engagement
    3. Leads to lower marketing costs/higher revenue

Overall, SOCAP’s Re-Imagine Conference was another great opportunity to connect with SOCAP friends, both new and old, and to learn some new things about continuous improvement. I’ll see you in Indy!

Mike Bowling
Conduit Global
Office (410) 552-5055
Cell (410) 746-6077

We would love to hear your 2019 Re-Imagine experience! Share insights and favorite moments with us by emailing us at socap@socap.org.