Insights and observations for improving marketing.

Issue 07  


Read prior issues >>


What happened to customer service?  [ Read ]
Randy Taylor examines how CRM stands in the way of delivering customer service.

Do you hate your customers?  [ Read ]
Mike Ellsworth explains how to use technology to show customers you care.

"So what?" needs to be asked more often.  [ Read ]
Dan Wasser explores how two simple words can improve customer insight.


What happened to customer service?

-- Randy Taylor, Co-CEO

Why companies should support good customer service as the lead for CRM

Is it just me, or has customer service been lost in the battle to employ customer relationship management (CRM) practices? I’ve been working with several large organizations lately on a personal level whom I know have initiated some sort of CRM effort to improve their ability to predict and support customer needs, but it seems like the technology, the strategy or the business objective for their CRM effort is impeding the customer from being serviced even at a basic level.

I know part of the one-to-one approach is to treat those 20% of customers, the ones who support most of your business with very unique service and understanding, but what happens to the other 80%? Are we the ones who are left standing out in the rain? We still have money, and are entitled to a basic level of customer service.

Let me share with you a couple of my recent personal experiences that help illustrate my point:

A major retailer, who has opened home improvement, remodeling stores nationwide, has been visited several times by my family-we’ve recently moved and are remodeling our kitchen. We’ve purchased a refrigerator, dishwasher, cook top, ventilation systems, and lights-combined these amount to a pretty substantial dollar figure. Yet, this doesn’t seem to carry any weight. Once the order was placed, we lost all of our customer clout. Now, no one can tell us the order status, and sales people don’t want to follow up because they were not the original order-taker. Worst of all, and there is not good system or department to support these requests for order tracking. Where does that leave a customer like me? Working the phones like a telemarketer to gain the information needed.

Another example is a major telecommunications company. I personally have several accounts ranging from long distance, wireless, internet access and web hosting with this company. My original intent was to use one company in order to gain some leverage as a customer so I could get better service. Surprisingly, this tactic is useless with this company because; a) they still haven’t integrated their customer files, and; b) even when they know a customer has all of these accounts, they manage each as a silo. While there are many specific instances where the company failed to provide acceptable customer service, a recent example involved trouble with my wireless phone. It always worked well in my house, and I always set it in the same place on my desk. But of some reason, it stopped receiving calls - well, let’s just say it receives them right into voice mail without ringing the phone. The company could not help me other than saying the signal wasn’t strong enough to recognize my phone, ignoring the fact that I could make calls on the same phone. After some testing of my own, I finally determined the phone was going bad. Too bad, the customer service “experts” couldn’t have helped me more with this problem when I needed it.

Both of these examples, while abbreviated, show there are customers in the “80%” category whom deserve better service. The examples also show where it should not be the customer’s job to spend all of their time to do the leg work that ordinary service at a company should help with.

So is CRM impeding customer service? I think there is a misguided movement that says if you identify only the cream of the crop customers and service them, then you will be more profitable at the expense of the rest of the customers.

What to do? If you are a company that relies on a both product and service - which most do in some manner, there are several things you can do to make sure you address the needs of your customers.

  • If you employ a CRM practice or CRM methodology, make sure this practice oversees the approach and service of the customer service area. Whether this is a formal customer service group, or simply service levels with all employees, it is important to know how all customers will be treated and document the steps for consistency. Make sure these steps are followed.

  • If you are looking into improving or deploying CRM in some way, evaluate the balance of analyzing and categorizing customers over your company’s need to service customers. Understand all aspects of the cost benefit analysis for CRM. There is a significant cost to poor service regardless of how much the customer spends.

  • Review current service operations. Understand how the customer’s needs have changed since these operations were set up. Are there practices that need to change with the times? With the age of high technology and mobile computing in rapid growth; understand the customer’s point of view and expectations, and provide appropriate, acceptable service.

  • Train for empowerment. If those employees who service customers are well trained and understand all options and ramifications from both customer and the business, they will make the right decisions to support customer service needs. This allows for the flexibility in decision making companies should benefit from when employing CRM.
When it comes to CRM, companies do not manage customer relations. Customers manage the relationship with companies. Therefore to effectively employ customer relationship management, companies must provide service the customer. A well satisfied customer will be much easier to retain and sell to over time.

Randy Taylor can be reached by email at:

[ Return to Top ]


Do you really hate your customers?

-- Mike Ellsworth, Executive Consultant

Last issue we discussed how the music business is trying to kill a marketing golden goose by cracking down on file sharing companies. Instead of mining the wealth of user preference data and exploiting the ability to touch their customers via the Instant Messaging capabilities built in to file sharing services such as Kazaa and Morpheus, media companies are trying to litigate their problems away. Meanwhile, savvy marketers outside the music industry are finding new ways of using Instant Messaging and other technology tools to build brand loyalty and develop a better understanding of their customers.

This issue we take a look at other ways the entertainment industry has gotten it wrong. In a recent article in Fast Company magazine, permission-marketing guru Seth Godin lets the media moguls have it with both barrels. He described their very real predicament this way:

    On one hand, you hate your customers. Which is entirely understandable. After all, they keep stealing your products. Then, after they steal your products once, they form global clubs to make sure that everyone else has your products too.

    On the other hand, you hate the talent who actually make your products. Which is why your bands are suing you to get free, your writers are posting their ideas on the Web for all to see, and your actors are looking for ways to remove you so that they can talk directly to their audiences. No, it certainly isn't easy being a monopolist.

Godin lists various customer sins media companies worry about, from file downloading to sneaking illicit outside food and drink into movies. The media moguls respond to these crimes by trying to create even more criminals: Suing every file sharing service in sight, running crying to Congress to criminalize CD and DVD burners, and enforcing draconian contract rules on the artists that produce their content.

At heart of all this conflict is the ever-popular paradigm shift: The rules of the game have changed. The rules of being a media company used to involve managing scarcity. Once upon a time, there were only three TV channels; now there are hundreds. There used to be a handful of popular music genres; now there are dozens. There used to be only one way to get a music album or a movie; now, unfortunately for the media business, there are thousands. The rules are changed, and rather than adapting, the media business’ response is to hate their customers and hate their workers.

Technology Can Change the Game

What has led us to this state of affairs? Technology.

Just a few short years ago, when 14.4Kbps modems were the way most people connected to the Internet, it was unimaginable that music file sharing would ever threaten the foundations of an industry. But even then, the media moguls hated their customers, spending inordinate amounts of cash cracking down on fan sites that published lyrics to popular songs (a practice that still goes on). Because they wanted to manage access to scarce commodities, media companies tried to stamp out the flowering of fan interest online. In the new media economy, a better idea would be to find a way to encourage such fan expressions, to learn from them and develop them.

Witness Prince’s approach to his fans: His Purpleness established the New Power Generation Music Club, which has become more than just an online fan club. For a hundred bucks a year, fans get first dibs on the first 15 rows of concert tickets (at $125 per!), at least four brand new Prince CDs in the mail throughout the year, priority access to any open sound checks and after parties, downloadable wallpaper and lyrics, news and updates, a special NPG chat room to chat directly with Prince, and access to downloadable songs. For a recent concert in Minnesota, around 1,000 passes were sold to NPG Music Club members from around the world who were allowed to roam around Prince’s studio/venue, Paisley Park, during the day and hear Prince perform each night. Fans also sat in a studio with Prince’s record producer to hear a new live CD, and paid $5 to pose for photos on the motorcycle from the movie "Graffiti Bridge."

Does Prince hate his fans? It doesn’t appear so. And his approach is an evolution of the online fan club efforts of other artists such as Sting (offering a Sting diary, photos, a quarterly newsletter, and email alerts for $25/year), Aerosmith (offering preferred and advance ticketing, Meet & Greets with the band, a CD-ROM, a travel service, a newsletter, exclusive merchandise, online discussions, and frequent flier miles (!) for $35/year), and David Bowie (offering an exclusive CD, three channels of BowieRadio, access to unreleased audio and video tracks, personal journals, contests, an online community, exclusive Webcasts of Bowie in the studio, online chats with the star, five customized e-mail addresses (, and 10MB of personal Web space for $65/year).

Love Your Customers

So what do these artists have in common, besides the fact that they don’t hate their customers? Effective use of technology.

Even if you’re not a pop star, and you’re not in the entertainment industry, your business can benefit from the same kinds of tools and techniques used by these pioneering artists. Here are some ideas you can use for your business.

  • Publish an online newsletter. An online newsletter (like this one!) contributes in many ways to your company by enhancing its image, building brand, and fostering loyalty. Yet your online newsletter must do more than offer product information and usage tips. It must provide other value, perhaps in the form of industry news, opinion pieces, how-to, problem-oriented articles, or a feedback forum. A newsletter is a way to touch your customers and prospects periodically--every week, month, or quarter. You must respect their attention and provide value rather than product commercials.

  • Create an alerts email list. We’re all swimming in a sea of information, and our attention is pulled in different directions almost minute-by-minute during the day. If you can offer a service that will alert your customers to important industry events, they may welcome you into their inboxes on a frequent basis. The key here is to only bother them when it’s really important. Make sure to offer a feedback option with each email: "Did you find this essential, interesting, OK, boring, intrusive?"

  • Create online events. You can sponsor an online chat with your CEO or schedule Webinars (Web seminars) to demonstrate product features or present industry experts discussing the problems of the day. Once again, you’ll need to use offline promotion techniques to drive the critical mass for each event. Once you have your attendees assembled online, make sure to exploit the event to find out what they think. Pose questions and have attendees vote. Have participants take a survey. Take live questions from the audience. If you work it right, many attendees will want to stay on long after the scheduled end asking questions.

  • Create an online community. Establish your Web site as a destination for your customers, a place where they can go to discuss your products, their business problems, and give you ideas for new features or products. You can use online chat room technology along with shared file areas, Instant Messaging, and online access to your customer service to build a customer community.

    Although this is a potentially fantastic asset for your product or service, it’s also quite difficult to do. The first challenge is building a critical mass. You’ll need to use all your offline marketing tricks to get enough of your customers to participate. The second challenge is dealing with the customers, especially those who might have something nasty to say. You need to take an online community seriously, and find effective ways to deal with complaints and other negative communications. This leads to the third challenge: devoting enough resources to the community. Your customers will participate online to the extent that they can benefit from your involvement. If done properly, an online community can expand your customers’ usage of your products or services as they pick up usage tips and other product information.

  • Close the loop with your customers. If used properly, the Internet is potentially the greatest communication mechanism ever devised. It’s a way to find out your customers’ opinions on every conceivable aspect of your industry, your company, and your products. There are a variety of mechanisms to do this, from tracking which links in your newsletter are clicked, to online opinion surveys and votes. Use these tools to ask your customers what they think. And then follow up.
Learn the lessons

There are two lessons to be learned from the current problems of the media industry.

The first is to be aware when the rules of the game change. It takes a lot of courage for a company with a vested interest in the status quo to recognize a dramatic market change and then move to exploit it.

Here’s an example of one drastic, out-of-the-box solution for the entertainment industry proposed by Professor Andrew Odlyzko of the Digital Technology Center at the University of Minnesota: Have the telecom industry buy all the media companies. "Total recorded music sales in the US come to a grand total of about $15 billion per year," Professor Odlyzko says, "while telecom spending is over 20 times higher. Thus in the abstract, it might be a wise investment for the phone companies to buy out the studios." He’s not foolish enough to believe this would ever happen, but it just might solve the media-pirating problem by making money off the transfer of content rather than licensing the content itself.

The way technology is accelerating, there may be a paradigm shift in your industry. Whether or not there is today, be sure there will be in the future. Is your organization nimble enough and ready enough to do what it takes to exploit it?

The second lesson involves your relationship with your customers. Do you love them, or do you hate them? Do you use all the tools at your disposal to make their lives easier, to find out what they want, and to help them use your products and services? Or do you believe this Internet thing will blow over? There are fantastic technical tools available to help you improve your relationship with your customers. Will you use them, or will you be like the 60-year old local dairy that only recently put phone numbers on its home delivery trucks because, "We don’t want all these people calling us!"

Mike Ellsworth can be reached by email at:

Additional reading on this topic:
Read more about peer-to-peer technology and marketing in CTOMentor’s white paper, Peer-to-Peer Computing and Business Networks: More Than Meets the Ear, available at

[ Return to Top ]


"So What?" needs to be asked more often.

-- Dan Wasser, Executive Consultant

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of managing many very intelligent people. Yet I continue to challenge them with a simple two-word question - "So what?" I am presented with graph after graph of data, backed up by table after table, usually in a font too small to even read. Each time this occurs I ask my standard "So what?" question. I have asked someone to investigate an issue and I receive what I will call reprocessed data—data taken from a single or multiple databases with the intention of bringing all the pieces together. Nevertheless, it does not answer the question. It does not solve the business issue—it only adds to the downtime in addressing the issue and to the lost opportunity in finding the answer. Worst of all, it adds to a lot of frustration.

You need to challenge your employees. The next time you're presented with a tomb of information, and I will stretch the use of the word information because it's probably only reprocessed data with little to no information being provided, ask the "So what?" question. You will be surprised at the deer-in-the-headlights' look you will receive. Note this is not so much as a challenge to their professionalism. It may lead to your desk; you asked for something and that is what you got. The old adage "I got what I asked for but not what I needed."

Let me give you an example. One of my clients had asked me to determine the demographic profile of their consumer. Simple enough. We had the data on 60,000 households and all of their supermarket purchases. I gave this request as it came into me, the straightforward demographic question, to one of my direct reports. She came back with the following a few days later:
    Brand X buyer profile: married, kids in the house, income greater than $75,000/year, White, male is employed full time, homeowner.

She provided me with a number of graphs depicting these demographics along with a spreadsheet with basically the same data, only in tabular form. I hit her with my "So what?" question. She defended her approach saying the client asked for these demographics and that's what she provided. I challenged her by saying the client does not simply want to know the demographics as a fun fact. Obviously, they plan to use this information for some other purpose. I knew in speaking with the client that they were planning to introduce some new media into their marketing to the consumer and was trying to determine which magazines to use to deliver their message. My direct report never asked the question so I didn’t immediately provide the insight. Yes, this was a test and an education opportunity. She performed as well and as poorly as I thought she would have, and learned something in the process.

The client actually did not provide me with this magazine information until I asked him what he planned to do with the information. By asking the question, the data will drive itself to provide the answer. By not asking the question, all you'll do is slow everything down and disappoint those who are looking to you for information, not reprocessed data.

Dan Wasser can be reached by e-mail at:

[ Return to Top ]


Insights to Action™ is a bi-monthly publication of Taylor Harkins Group.
Copyright © 2002, Taylor-Harkins Group. All Rights Reserved.

About Taylor-Harkins Group
Taylor-Harkins Group is a professional services firm specializing in optimizing marketing operations to drive revenue and improve ROI. Using structured, time-tested proprietary frameworks and best practices, we produce high-impact results by leveraging the optimum mix of people, process, and technology in refocusing marketing toward activities that generate results.

For more information about Taylor-Harkins Group, visit our website http:/// or call Dave Harkins at 630.820.2087
Follow this link Privacy Policy for information about how we handle personal information.


Has someone forwarded this copy to you? Don't miss an issue! Get your own copy sent right to your inbox every other month with the latest insights and observations on marketing.  Subscribe to Insights to Action™ today!


Learn how we can help you drive revenue, streamline operations, and improve your marketing ROI.


Dave Harkins is speaking at the NCDM Summer Conference July 22-24 in Philadelphia.

Subscribers to Insights to Action™ can get a 25% discount off the regular conference rate using our special registration form.

>Subscribe now!




Chicago  |  Cincinnati  | Boston  | Minneapolis  |  Jacksonville  |  San Francisco


Home  |  Who we are  What we do  |  Our Results  |  Contact  |  Search |  Site Map  

Copyright © 2001, 2002, Taylor-Harkins Group.  All Rights Reserved.