Minimal CRM and the challenge of tagging

Many of my friends have either added a CRM tool to their email application (i.e., adding Streak to GMail or PoliteMail to Outlook), or they have created a CRM-oriented routine using other tools such as Excel or Evernote. 

Because I've seen what a great CRM application can do, I am attracted to a full-featured product like Salesforce, but then discouraged because I just don't have enough 'relationship-building' time to use all its features. 

I recently stumbled across an article by Khe Hy, who used to be a hedge-fund manager and is now a writer and adviser. He did a great job of zeroing in on the essential issues of having a 'personal CRM' and the challenge of grouping and tagging your contacts. I've been trying to do this in LinkedIn, and it's so much more difficult than I anticipated. Khe has done a great job of 'hacking' this problem. 

RadReads: I couldn't find a good personal CRM so I created my own and want to share it with you, 2014-Aug-23 by Khe Hy

[I've lightly edited this information to be easier for future reference.]

The crux of the system is 4-category tagging system. As I meet new people, I use four tag families to describe their attributes: 1) Industry/Sub-Industry,  2) Job function, 3) Passions and 4) Personal Attributes. 

  • The first two are pretty straightforward (and very similar to LinkedIn); however, much of the magic occurs when you understand and connect upon an individual’s passions and personality traits. Quite simply, people connect more deeply over their personal commonalities than the information on their business cards.

  • ...The most “controversial” part of this system is that the tags are hard-coded [limited and pre-defined]. The reason I did this was to enforce some self discipline on the user (and to make things searchable). As most Evernote users know, the free form nature of tags makes it very hard for them to be effective. The example that I give is say you were using “Crossfit” as a tag – one day while updating you may type in “Xfit” and you would immediately have duplicates.

If you’ve made it this far, you must be wondering if creating these tags, updating individuals, filtering, etc is worth all the work. I would say that this tool becomes pretty powerful as the number of individuals increases. I currently have 500 people in mine and I believe that it enables me to really surpass Dunbar’s Number [150 contacts is a human limit without technology support] as I try to make myself as helpful as possible to my network of friends. I’ve added fields to help manage small mailing lists and to also keep track of attendance to the various events that I host. [In the CRM world, these are History fields.]

  • Resist the habit of adding new tags right away. Start by adding them in the Free form field and making a habit of scanning those every month or so.
  • Comment your tags – this can help resist the temptation of adding new ones too quickly or dealing with those that are not mutually exclusive

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Alaska Airlines, unlike United

Recently, I flew Southwest Airlines, which used to have the reputation for humanity now enjoyed by Alaska Airlines. At Southwest, they were very efficient and friendly, in that order. It seems like the bigger and older a company gets, the less personal it becomes. I hope the Alaska-Virgin America merger goes well and they have another few years of humanity to share. 

Bloomberg Pursuits: Why Little Alaska Airlines Has the Happiest Customers in the Sky, 2017-May-24 by Nikki Ekstein

According to Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power, Alaska performs well—or wins—in every category. In-flight services are one exception: Alaska keeps up with aircraft models and onboard technology but doesn’t push these envelopes. (This is expected to change as the carrier inherits Virgin America’s tricked-out fleet.) But cost is a selling point. Flight crew get praise. And the airline wins by its widest margins in the boarding, deplaning, and baggage handling category.

“This [category] represents access,” explains Taylor. “The courtesy of the gate staff, timely flight information, and the time it takes to get on and off the plane.” In his mind, how you’re treated and how quickly you board are related: It takes smart, intuitive crew members, both behind the scenes and in the front of the house, to make the process seamless. It’s about making customers feel less like cattle, he says, and more like individuals. How does Alaska do that? “It’s not a mystery at all,” says Taylor. “They’re just very people-oriented. They empower their employees.”...  

Even though Kelly flies the airline only a few times a year—mostly to TED events in Vancouver—he puts serious stock in his Alaska miles. They’re often redeemed at more valuable rates than those of other airlines, he says, to the point that booking an Emirates flight is often cheaper with Alaska miles than with Emirates miles. The carrier also sells miles cheaply, for less than 2¢ apiece. (Other carriers sell them for 3¢ or 4¢.) “All this makes it one of the most valuable programs out there,” Kelly says.

Maintaining reward status is also easier with Alaska than with other airlines. “Even in a down year, Alaska will grandfather you into your normal level of status,” says David Fowler, chief privacy officer for an online marketing company. That was an informal perk until recently: Earlier this month the airline launched a “parental leave” policy that lets new parents (or others with significant life changes) put their loyalty status on hold for a year.

For Amy Daly-Donovan, an organization development consultant, little things like upgrade reliability, free cocktails, and end-of-year thank-you gifts (like tins of cookies) allow Alaska to stand out. “They truly seem appreciative of their highest-level frequent fliers and have the best frequent perks—no change fees!” she says.

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Loyalty Role Models: Sephora, REI and JetBlue

Every industry has different models of customer loyalty. You should know who are the 'role models' for your industry, and consider adapting their programs for your customers. 

TowerData: 3 Big Brands with Exceptional Customer Loyalty Programs, 2016-May-17 by Phil Davis

  • Sephora’s loyalty program, Beauty Insider, offers everything a cosmetics addict could want in a beauty membership. It’s free to join, and each dollar spent accrues points that earn members free beauty supplies. 

  • REI proclaims, “REI is … dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” And its loyalty program embodies this goal. 

  • At its core, TrueBlue by JetBlue is a pretty typical airline rewards program. Members earn points for the dollars they spend on JetBlue travel, which they can redeem for discounted flights and other perks. Where TrueBlue takes it to a new level is with extra features they’ve been adding since its launch 15 years ago.
    • “Continuously Extending” [offers] TrueBlue points for members who use the JetBlue Card from American Express
    • TrueBlue Mosaic [is] a program that rewards the most loyal customers with waived cancellation fees, early boarding, access to a dedicated customer service line and complimentary in-flight alcoholic beverages
    • Family Pooling... allows families to combine their existing TrueBlue points into a shared account 

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eBay's unique CRM is real-time, all channels

Managing customer relationships is not a function--it's a passion. eBay demonstrated the passion by developing technology that supports their specific and existing customers--those people actually buying from eBay, today. No CRM "platform" available "off-the-shelf" is going to serve our customers as well as something we build ourselves. 

eMarketer: eBay Incorporates Machine Learning to Overhaul Email Marketing Platform, 2017-May-3, interview of Alex Weinstein, Director of Marketing Technology and CRM at eBay

eMarketer: Can you talk more about this personalization platform? How does it work?

Weinstein: Imagine a customer is browsing eBay for shoes. Marketers constantly create deals—there are some deals on shoes, some on electronics and some on accessories for cars. As those deals are created, they’re placed into virtual “buckets.”

For every piece of marketing content, such as our newsletter, a machine learning model looks through all these buckets and decides that based on a customer’s browsing history, a shoe deal would be most relevant. It’s the best of both worlds—content is filled by a machine learning model selecting from deals that humans have created.

eMarketer: Why did you decide to build this platform in-house instead of buying a prebuilt one?

Weinstein: We evaluated a bunch of third-party offerings, but there were two reasons for doing this in-house. The first reason was eBay’s sheer scale. We are one of the largest marketplaces on the planet, with a billion items for sale and 167 million active buyers. Third-party solutions struggled with the scale.

The second reason was our internal decision to prioritize this work and be one of the best in the world at it.... 

Now, we have a real-time data pipeline that powers our downstream marketing campaigns. Whenever an action takes place on the site—a customer buying an item, browsing or just seeing an ad—the activity is tracked by our real-time engine, which updates the profile of the customer and sets off triggers that we have embedded in the system. The triggers apply to both customers and items: For example, the moment the price changes on an item a customer has viewed, we can automatically send that customer an email. No batches involved.

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How Marriott and Hilton are innovating loyalty

Just as customer experience allows us to move beyond price competition to capture customers, loyalty innovations are growing our mind share. 

Hospitality Net: Hospitality, Meet the Digital Age, 2017-May by Marc Berman

Hospitality loyalty doesn't have to limit itself purely to the transaction step of the travel plan. A traveler's planning journey is much bigger than that. According to an Expedia Media Solutions survey, more that 60 percent of American digital users consume travel content. Collectively, they're spending 1.5 trillion minutes each month doing so. That makes for a lot of browsing, researching and planning.

Loyalty programs are beginning to catch onto this and are adding content into their offerings. Marriott's new loyalty app, launched in February, can deliver curated, original content from Marriott's digital magazine, Traveler, based on users' previous hotel searches or upcoming travels. This content helps the brand become present at other stages of the travel planning process, instead of just settling for the purchase touchpoint. Not to mention, it's sure to help the wanderlust kick in for those who are more likely to travel on a whim, or the business traveler plan a last-minute trip.... 

Solo travel may be on the rise, but traveling is still most often done in a group. In 2015, 76 percent of those who travelled did so in a group. Digital elements to the hotel-booking experience can ease the tension here, especially when it comes to payment.

The new Hilton Honors loyalty program allows users to pool their points with up to 10 friends or family members, giving it a leg up on Airbnb where users have to settle for only one payment method rather than splitting it across a group. The program also allows users to put a certain amount of points towards a stay rather than forcing them to pay for the stay entirely in one currency, a great feature for groups who don't have everyone participating in the program. Loyalty marketers sometimes neglect that group, though with easy payment options like this, brands can drive new membership. 

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Mining for customer aspirations at Kohl's and Marriott

One of the big advantages of a sophisticated loyalty program is the opportunity to find out what your customers are dreaming about. 

Forbes.com: Experiential Rewards: How Kohl's, Neiman Marcus and Marriott Set a New Bar, 2017-Apr-28 by Bryan Pearson

The best retail customer experiences are designed to fulfill consumer expectations. For the shopper who got to participate in a fashion photo shoot for Kohl’s, it meant filling a celebrity’s shoes.

That’s basically what a member of Kohl’s Yes2You Rewards got when the retailer invited her to participate in a photo shoot of the LC Lauren Conrad line, designed by The Hills TV star and fashion designer Lauren Conrad. As Conrad described it, the member (Kayla Watters) got to "fill my shoes...."

For Kohl’s, the Yes2You Rewards program also provides its own set of merchant benefits. These include having “an authentic, two-way dialogue” to learn what its shoppers want, how they interact with the retailer and what matters most in their brand experiences, said Michelle Gass, Kohl’s chief merchandising and customer officer.

“As we learn more about our customers through Yes2You Rewards, we develop deeper relationships and provide promotions, experiences and surprises that are meaningful to them,” she said.

Since the program launched in 2014, Kohl’s has made millions of customer surprises, she said, ranging from a VIP trip to the American Music Awards to an early screening of a blockbuster film to the opportunity to star in a Kohl’s photo shoot. “The positive sentiment we’ve seen from these customers is incredible and absolutely deepens customer affinity with our brand.”...

Marriott Rewards Experiences Marketplace offers for auction a meet-and-greet with Tony Bennett, VIP access to the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and tickets to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Recently, it auctioned off a chance to stay in one of eight tricked-out tents at the Coachella music festival, each of which duplicated a room in one of its eight boutique hotel brands.

Important to these experiential reward strategies is that each is sized up to its audience. From Kohl’s branded photo shoots to Marriott’s customized tents, each brand uses its program data to develop reward options that hit the relevant sweet spots of its core members.

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What are people's benchmarks in store experiences?

95% of Americans were in Walmart last year, and 89% in McDonald's. Walgreens and Dollar Tree were experienced by over 70%, and Home Depot by 68%. When we look to understand consumer expectations, we should all have direct experience of those retailers as well. 

We can't project our buying experiences onto our customer. We have to meet them where they live. 

Quartz: Ninety-five percent of US consumers made at least one trip to Walmart last year, 2017-Apr-11 by Neha Thirani Bagri

NPD Group, a market research organization, which tracks millions of online and in-store receipts, says that 95% of all US consumers shopped at a Walmart store in 2016. By comparison, Amazon reached less than half of all US consumers last year—at 42%.

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How to drive your customers away, the way Amazon and Overstock do

Most of us don't mind when an online store offers us a discount to buy before a deadline. We get that they know we may drift away and forget them. But ever-changing prices erode our confidence that we can find a fair deal. Jerry Useem has a great article about how it's growing and why. His article ends with an amazing interview with Executive Director of a nonprofit that works to protect consumers from deceptive marketing. This woman is also a mother who is responsible for buying things for her family. Do read the article, even if you're a consumer and not a business owner. 

And finally, devious pricing games (or tests, as they are called) will actually drive loyalty toward more reliable and transparent companies. Good bye Amazon, hello Everlane. 

The Atlantic: How Online Shopping Makes Suckers of Us All, 2071-May by Jerry Useem

“I do not shop,” Patten said.

In what sense?, I asked, confused.

“I just gave up,” she said. “I just stopped shopping.”

I thought about this after we hung up. Maybe it was a function of her job, which let her see too much. Maybe she was a certain type—“survival shopper” was the label she used—who simply didn’t experience the thrill of finding a pair of $30 moccasins for $8. Such thoughts helped stay the alternative explanation, the one Gabriel Tarde called “the madness of doubt”: that there’s a finite amount of uncertainty we can absorb, a limit to how much we can check the ticker to see whether the Swiffer’s price is up or down this morning; that somewhere in us is a shut-off point, and that Patten had hit it.

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How Amazon leads their customers, reported by Neil Perkin

As I've mentioned before, I have some serious issues with the way Jeff Bezos manages Amazon. I believe he's too ready to sacrifice his employees and his values to his ambitions. 

Nevertheless, he's successful because he's committed to his customers, and there is much we can learn from him. We all compete with Amazon at one level or another, and if we want to survive we have to be realistic about what drives Amazon success. Neil Perkin has digested the best parts of Bezos' annual letter to shareholders, and Neil's analysis is quoted below. 

Like Amazon, we have to be attuned to what's dissatisfying our customers, not what's satisfying them. We have to help them succeed when they don't even recognize their problems. 

Only Dead Fish: Avoiding Day Two, 2071-Apr-24 by Neil Perkin

There are many ways to centre a business, says Bezos – competitor, technology, product or business model focused, but ‘obsessive customer focus’ is in his view the most useful since customers are always ‘beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great’, and a desire to delight customers will therefore drive continuous invention and progression. He uses the example of Amazon Prime, as being something which customers didn’t ask for directly, but which has been built around an understanding of customer need and which has been enormously successful (they reportedly now have 66 million Prime customers)... 

Great customer experience, he says, doesn’t only come from surveys and research but ‘starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste’. 

Embrace external trends:- he talks about the importance of getting on to the big, powerful trends quickly, where many large companies resist change: ‘If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind’.

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Are Facebook, LinkedIn and Gmail CRM killers?

Two trends are coming at CRM from different directions. Many small businesses are integrating extensions into Gmail that turn it into a CRM. From the other direction, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are refusing to allow their products to integrate with CRM's forcing people to link out of the CRM to engage their customers there. 

CRM's will evolve, no doubt about it, but I pity the company that relies on Facebook or LinkedIn to stay connected with their customers. Neither of those platforms will ever support companies, instead they both have track records of exploiting their users and advertisers. The Gmail trend is different and probably valuable. If a young company is using all Google-based products and can cobble together a CRM out of Google tools, that makes sense. Although I wouldn't let my business become too dependent on one platform. 

A good CRM platform allows us to own our customer information. Integrating information from Facebook and LinkedIn is a necessary pain, but one we have to endure to secure our relationships. You have been warned!

VentureBeat Sponsored Post: CRMs are dying — and that’s a good thing, 2017-Apr-4 by Victor Iryniuk, Nethunt CRM 

(Note: the words below come from an advertisement in native form. VentureBeat does a good job of making that clear.)

You might not have noticed it, but a drastic shift in CRM systems already happened once before. No system left standing exists without some sort of integration with other services that your company uses — such as a website, a messenger platform, or a social network.

But what we’re seeing now is the next transformation of integrated CRM apps. Many popular communication services are not only integrating with these systems but are starting to exercise the same capabilities previously associated with CRMs. And since these services are already the choice of a modern sales team, they might become new focal points of customer relationship management.

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