A Razorfish Analysis of Customer Engagement in Transition

Change. As marketers, we have always accepted it. Markets change; brands gain momentum and then lose energy; and new mediums come along. Consider the advent of television in the 1950s and how it changed the rules of marketing for decades.

The change marketers face today is different than what has come before, in both its pace and its potential, which is why we’ve used the term “liminal” as the title of this book. The word liminal isn’t just about change, but about being on the cusp of something new. In the context of marketing, it reflects the fact that, for the first time, customers have an immediate voice and an ever-expanding array of channels in which to use it. If marketers are to survive—and thrive—in this new world, they need to re-examine how to engage with customers, across generations and levels of technological savvy.

Thus, we undertook the research in “Liminal” from the ground up, so we could understand how people engage with companies, what they are looking to get out of those engagements, and what channels they prefer. It’s not enough anymore for marketers to have a top-down mentality, simply making sure they have a presence on multiple channels, but to understand what makes some customers still use an 800 number, while others reach out to brands on Facebook.

Here’s the problem: the above assumes your customers want a relationship with you. They don’t. Yes, they will engage with you, yet only if it is on their terms. The findings in “Liminal” demonstrate that, in the future, marketers will need to find ways to sustain those engagements over time, regardless of channel, whether they are traditional, emerging or new.

You have long known it is necessary to take charge and build relationships with your customers. We hope you will find that “Liminal,” because it focuses on what customers want out of engagement, combined with the an eye toward the ever-expanding array of channels, will help you realize the opportunities that lie with this liminal world—for both you, and your customers.

Sincerely,
John Zell
VP, Global CRM Solutions, Razorfish

A Brief Review of Customer Reviews

We’ve recently seen evidence that more companies are creating space on their sites for customer reviews. According to Alterian, 74% of Americans use online comparison sites to gather product information. While this seems like a straightforward case of increasing adoption, we think it might signal a shift in how people use reviews.

While writing Liminal, we saw that customer reviews did not perform well with respect to the six engagement elements. People are becoming skeptical of reviews, not trusting what they read. Those of us who have read customer reviews regularly expect to find the glowing alongside the devastating. Evidence from some industries indicates that people with very good or very bad experiences are among the most likely to post in the first place. Unfortunately, the general exuberance of these reviews makes them useless to the majority of us.

Corporate America is starting to pick up on this trend. The article “Amazon Fake Reviews get More Subversive“ shows how companies are taking a new tack in creating fake product reviews. They’ve given up on the “rah-rah” and started simply mentioning the names of their products. To wit:

“I used these with an Onkyo HT6100 HTIB system, and everything worked out fine. I was a little worried at first because the mounts are plastic, but they were plenty strong enough to handle the Onkyo speakers which are about 12 inches tall. Good mounts at a good price! -Nick

This is clever for a few reasons. First, it gets the product name out in a positive light, but still sounds natural enough to have come from a real person. Second, it makes us think that the writer has experience with the actual product.

Performing due diligence while shopping means fact-checking anything that you read – period ­– but that’s what makes these new reviews so devious. The point of product reviews is to give us a shortcut. We hope that somebody with more time and interest in a product has already done the legwork. Just give us the expert opinion! And honestly, who is going to fact-check a product review?

Retailers have little incentive to pull positive reviews, but if we don’t want customers to lose all faith, there needs to be a way to see what’s real and what isn’t. ‘How useful was this comment to you’ ratings just ask people we don’t know to tell us what they think about opinions from people we also don’t know. Not good. Where does it end?

One potential answer lies in leveraging social graphs to surface reviews from friends, or friends of friends. This circumvents the issue of trust by letting you know exactly where a review came from and how much you should – or shouldn’t – trust it.

A less-explored avenue would use advanced diagnostic techniques like Cultural Consensus Analysis to validate new reviews against what has already been written – but that, too could fall prey to the fakers.

Until then, read carefully, and don’t forget to comment with your great ideas!

Virgin America: Addressing Today’s New Age of Communication With Consumers

When describing what we mean by Engagement Types, I love to retell the story Sir Richard Branson told at last year’s Exact Target Connections 2010. Apparently, someone on one of the Virgin America planes had an issue and instead of pushing the flight attendant call button (as most of us tend to do), he Tweeted about it. Luckily, Virgin America has a great process for monitoring the social space and responding quickly: the person monitoring on the ground, radioed up to the plane and the issue was addressed tout de suite.

At this last snow storm, Delta did me a favor by providing a fantastic juxtaposed example when they started addressing customer service issues through Twitter. They did as we recommended in “Liminal” - addressed customer service needs in the preferred channel… well, for Twitter. Yet, when someone wanted their issue addressed in Facebook, they sent that person to Twitter. Not everyone has a Twitter account and this person was not thrilled about the direction… having a negative effect on his perception of the brand. You can read more details in this Clickz article.

When we commissioned the study for “Liminal” one of the most important choices we made in this research was inviting our client Virgin America to take this journey with us, because the company offered us a unique opportunity to investigate consumer engagement: Virgin America uses minimal mass marketing, relying heavily on word-of-mouth. This approach reduced the number of touchpoints for which we would have to account. And Virgin America understands the importance of engaging with their guests regardless of the channel, as we saw in Sir Richard’s example. Needless to say they were eager to learn the results of our study and put it into action.

Today at OMMA Global San Francisco Brett Billick, Director CRM for Virgin America will be talking about what they did run with since the research was presented to them and results they have seen. Rumor has it that two free round trip tickets are available to those who stick around for this very last session on the very last day.

For those of you (like me) who cannot attend the event, check out what Porter and Sir Richard have to see about engaging in this new world.

AdAge’s Virgin America on Why Twitter, Facebook Are More Important Than TV
“Having a two-way dialogue is really important as people are online more and more. It’s a great way to drive guest retention and guest connection.” – A key point from Liminal

Entrepreneur.com’s interview of Richard Branson on ‘Social’ Relations
“To succeed, entrepreneurs and business leaders must look at this rapidly changing world through a different lens” – A statement that gets to the heart of why we decided to invest in “Liminal” in the first place. Read how he is reorganizing Virgin Atlantic and its sister companies to address today’s new age of communication with consumers.

Where are you seeing brands expanding beyond their typical engagement points and surprising and delighting their consumers in new ways?

Liminal: The Customer Engagement Report Launch Recap

First off, we’d like to thank everyone who Tweeted, blogged, posted something on Facebook or LinkedIn, or commented on the Mediapost article or here on our blog. As we said in “Liminal,” bringing up the idea of engagement tends to spark a visceral response from marketers – and we were not disappointed by the passionate response our research received.

Next, we’d like to take a moment to summarize a few key points brought on as a result of the great discussion around “Liminal.” Thanks goes to the Mediapost commenters for fueling this response.

Why Did We Do the Research? We hope Liminal will help brands figure out how to conduct what is now an ongoing two-way dialogue with their customers over multiple touchpoints – and prioritize those touchpoints.

While it’s obvious there are more and more channels with which people and brands can communicate, there hasn’t been much in the way of research about what people are expecting to get out of different channels, what’s most important to them when they engage with brands (feeling valued, efficiency?) and also, what channels they use and how that might differ according to demographic.

This Study Represents a Snapshot in Time. We suspect, as do others who read “Liminal,” that one reason Twitter and Facebook don’t deliver for most customers right now is that brands aren’t using them to provide the experience that people want. Think back to conversations had in every conference room about what to do about that new .com thing – many of the first websites failed to deliver on the Engagement Elements as well.

Marketers Need to Take a Fresh Look at How to Value Consumers. There also isn’t that much study of how the value of a customer changes for a brand when that person is highly influential, be they Oprah or simply a steadfast brand fan who likes to publicize their passion. We refer to this in Liminal as enhanced, or eLTV. However, as we said in the book, as a measure it’s a work in progress. The main point is that brands need to move beyond valuing their consumers based on how much they spend with them and evaluate their influence on other people as well. Many brands can also add in their own data and observations about their customers to determine which ones have high eLTV.

So What’s Next? As we describe in the About section of our site, Razorfish CRM Solutions created this blog because we know that CRM, as our industry has known it, is in a liminal state – it is on the cusp of something new, as engagement channels proliferate, and consumer adoption of them does as well. Thus, we sensed a need – a need not only to present our own research about what consumers want out of their engagements with brands, but also the views of other experts who are as interested in the subject as we are.

So please stay tuned for more great content to come, such as an expanded view on mobile, how ratings and reviews are evolving, what companies are doing to improve customer engagement, and much more. Let us know if you care to contribute, as we always welcome guest writers. And finally, thanks again for your continued support of “Liminal.”