Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Occupy Customer Experience: We wish you a fabulous 2012

Thanks to our customers, users, game-players, partners, advisers, employees, we met and surpassed all our goals and milestones that we set for ourselves in 2011.

Being a Remarkable Learning Company®, we ourselves learned a lot in 2011. Some of the key learnings were:
1. The value of "failure" from Jeff Stibel's blog post "Why I hire people who fail?"
2. The value you get from continuously experimenting, measuring and adjusting
3. The value of using social media channels effectively for sales and customer service
4. Helping businesses and organizations understand the buyer, especially millennial end-user and mindset
5. According to Horses for Sources and recent purchases of SuccessFactors and Rypple, Business platforms like PAKRA are the future of outsourcing
6. One can bootstrap and with a little ingenuity create immersive learning experiences and data that provide insight. These videos from TED.com inspired us in 2011.
Arvind Gupta: Turning Trash to Toys for Learning
Luis von Ahn: Massive Online Collaboration
Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape the world

Looking ahead to 2012:

As I try to comprehend various events that occurred globally in 2011 (and perhaps best encapsulated in the Time Magazine's "Person of the year"), I suspect that this tipping point of discontent stems from:
- Continual lack of service
- Mismatched expectations
- In many cases complete disregard and disrespect of the customer and the constituent.
This was further elaborated via a multi-disciplinary study done by department of Mathematics (and others) of University of Vermont University of Vermont study of twitter feeds: Temporal Patterns of Happiness and Information in a Global Social Network: Hedonometrics and Twitter.

As you know, we provide products and services to businesses and organizations but in most situations, our products and services are tad bit far from THE end-user or constituent. We supply to organizations, who provide services and products to their clients. Their clients can be the end-users or their clients, who in turn provides services and products to their end-users. Needless to say, we are at least 3 degrees out of 4.74 degrees of separation to the end-user.

If all of us in the 4.74 supply continuum, become unrelenting champions for the end-user and continuously focus on the experience of that end-user, then we can address this era of global discontent.

The end-user experience begins from the time products/services are designed
--> To how those are marketed
--> To how they are sold
--> To order and access
--> To using and receiving service
--> To paying for the product and service
And the cycle repeates over and over again.

Personally, I believe that outsourcers, business gurus and management consultants led us astray by telling managers to focus ONLY on the circle of immediate influence. That kind of thinking led all of us (in leadership roles) create and deploy sub-optimized processes, set-up wrong incentives, create bubble economies, followed by a complete loss of line of vision to the end-user.

So! Let us Occupy Customer Experience. Occupying customer experience is the perhaps one way that can bring equitable satisfaction, make us all rich, and make us the fittest to survive all economic business cycles.

For 2012 and beyond: Occupy Customer Experience will be our theme and PAKRA® culture in:
- Every new product PAKRA® Games we build
- Human-capital management platform (PAKRA® Console and Analytics) we improve
- Marketing campaigns and blog interviews with leaders, we run
- Sales experience that you encounter with us and then provide to your buyers
- Customer service that you experience from us and in turn your end-users experience

Join us for this experience.
Wish you and your family a fabulous and great customer experience in 2012.

Rini Das


Credit Roll for Mashup Photo: For our Holiday mashup card we give credits to the following image sites:





Thursday, December 22, 2011

Conversations with Jeff Weinberger – A marketing strategist, problem solver, and disruptive thinker

As a marketing strategy innovator and sustainability visionary, Jeff’s career has been focused on identifying strategic opportunities and creating actionable outcomes for companies such as WebEx (Cisco), Saba, and SAP.
MS> Jeff, Are you a gamer?
JW> I’m not a gamer in today’s typical sense of electronic, console, or internet games, but I have always been interested in gaming. The games I’ve always gravitated toward are strategy games. I enjoy games that require a tremendous amount of thought and problem-solving, as well as a lot of complexity. I enjoy games where there is no specific set of steps you need to follow. Each time you play, the process and the outcomes can be different. And like so many others, I’ve also gotten in to some on-line versions of Scrabble lately (ed. feel free to challenge him!).
MS> Some people game for purely for the challenge, and others do it to learn. And then there are the folks who just want to tune out a bit and play purely for fun.
JW> There’s a trend now toward time or activity-based social and on-line games, versus problem-solving-based or strategy gaming. The time and activity-based games are much more social and more about the connections among players. I find it really interesting to see how these shorter, social games have become so popular. There are some really interesting ideas around how you can use that kind of gaming for corporate and social good. And that’s a topic I find really interesting.
MS> This leads me into another subject I wanted to discuss: gamification. How have you seen the corporate world adopt and use gamification?
JW> First, I must say I think gamification is going to be the most annoying buzzword for 2012. Gamification is being discussed everywhere right now. I think it’s a very positive trend. It’s a way to engage tremendous numbers of people behind a particular cause or goal. It can be used behind any goal, whether it be charitable, corporate, or something else. The engagement factor doesn’t have to be long term, it just has to be interesting enough to get people to want to work together and create common good and common outcomes. It’s a much more engaging way to deal with today’s learner or workforce than any other more traditional manner.
If you were my employee, and I tell you to go update a spreadsheet or complete a mundane task, you may grudgingly do it. But if I tell you that you and 10 coworkers need to collaborate together to do this task as part of a game, that you’ll get points for completion, and that the outcome is an award; the task becomes more interesting and more motivating. There’s a tremendous potential for engagement.
There’s a downside though. If you look at gamification in the sales, prospecting, and marketing world — it’s very hot right now. We know there is tremendous potential for engagement. The problem is, you may only be able to engage a small percentage of your audience in a gaming scenario. So, it may be really wonderful that you get a big hit-count or lots users of the game you put up on your website. And you may realize a certain conversion or purchase rate out of the effort. But you may miss out on engaging a large portion of your audience which could be extremely valuable to you.
MS> There’s an obvious hook to using games this way, but I think there needs to be an understanding of the entire picture. What percentage of your whole consumer base are you grabbing? And what happens after they play? If you are attracting customers, or potential customers, through gamification strategies, are you converting them or retaining them?
There is a core belief at PAKRA that any marketing or sales effort we undertake must have measurable outcomes. We need to understand the effectiveness of any effort we launch. There needs to be identified metrics that will tell us how many people we engaged, how we engaged them, and whether the end result was a new lead or a closed sale.
JW> The idea of engaging your whole audience – and knowing how to address each segment - is a core concept to disruptive marketing, which is what I’ve been known for over the past decade or so. You have to look at your relationships with your entire community, not just with your top 10% or 20% who may be the largest customers or those with whom you engage the most. To be quite honest, the easiest customers for your competitors to pick off are the 80% you aren’t paying attention to. When I am running a company, I want to make sure I find a way to not let that 80% become vulnerable to competitive loss. I think ignoring that segment of customers is a dangerous strategy, and it’s the reason a lot of companies fail or are the victims of market disruption.
MS> That’s so important to be mindful of that 80% that we’re talking about. New accounts acquisition and new sales are important, but so is retention of existing customers.
JW> Customer loyalty and retention is a critical issue in today’s business world. Many companies, in software or internet services for example, are moving more toward a subscription-based model. If you are in a subscription-based business, the most important thing a customer can do for you is to renew. It’s important to make sure that after you’ve closed that initial sale, you are able to retain that customer month after month and year after year. Figuring out customer loyalty is not that easy. Of course you want all your customers to renew. You may not get 100% renewal, but that should be your goal. If you look at cell phone companies, cloud-based companies or even media-based companies, the renewal rates are pathetically small. A churn rate of 20% for a cell phone provider is just not acceptable. When you look at the customers in the other 80%, those who are not leaving, there is more than loyalty there. There is disruptive potential there. And the potential for that group to help you find out why your 20% is leaving.
You may find that you have customers who are more interesting, flexible, and more innovative than your top 20%. These customers are going to provide seeds for the way your market is going to be disrupted. And I assure you, at some point, your market will be disrupted. As a CEO or customer service executive, I want to know what my 80% are thinking so I can disrupt my own market. I would rather have my customer base tell me what needs to change than hear it from my competitor, and I’d rather make that change than let a competitor do that to me. My goal in working with a company on marketing strategy is to help them know what those customers are thinking. In my role as marketing strategist, I want to help you disrupt your own market. If you are the CEO of a company, I want to help you figure out how to listen to your customers and understand what all your customers are thinking. You’ve got to be able to figure out which customers are going to do really interesting things — things that will drive your market.
MS> You said your practice is focused on finding and maximizing the value of customer (and other) relationships. How do you figure out that value and what does it mean for your clients?
JW> I believe in using a customer value model. This looks at the entire customer community and asks, “What is the value of these relationships?” There’s a revenue component to this, because what your customer pays you is obviously important. But there are also some other components we all understand, but may not put together. “Share of wallet” is a common term in many industries. In other words, how much of that customer’s budget are they spending with you? A large customer may give you a small share of wallet compared to what they can spend. A small customer may give you a larger share of wallet and actually be more profitable over time, and will be less likely to walk away. You can develop a much deeper relationship with the latter customer based on loyalty in the relationship, even though the revenue number may appear lower on the surface.
Customer value is made up of a number of dimensions, including these two. To get a better understanding of the value of a customer – or the potential value of a prospect – it’s important to look at how important each is to your particular business and how your customers stack up.
Understanding how valuable each customer is and where they are in your community determines what effort you should put behind that customer and into keeping that relationship.
MS> It sounds like you are talking about a life-long profile of a customer.
JW> Exactly. And this is something that I’m passionate about. Helping companies understand these relationships. Although we are talking about business-to-customer relationships, my philosophies in this area are really drawn from personal experiences.
The value in my personal life, and what I enjoy most, are the relationships I have with people. One thing I’ve come to discover over time is that value in a relationship doesn’t come from an individual but from the interaction between two or more individuals. For example, you and I are talking. You have some ideas and I have some ideas, and that’s all great. But things become interesting once we start to exchange ideas, whether we agree or disagree. Once I discovered that was such an important driver in my personal life, I started to look at in a business context. It’s all about relationships among businesses, customers, suppliers, and shareholders.
As a marketing strategist, I spend a lot of time analyzing the issues around the relationships my clients have with their customers and looking at the value in those relationships. And then I started to ask the “how” questions about those relationships. How is value created between the business and the customer? How can the business continue to add to that value? How do you use that value to create competitive advantage?
MS> Talk to me about how you learn. What is your learning style?
JW> I have two unique learning styles that come up in different situations. In one respect, I’m very empirical. I look at something, and I see it happen six times, and I can say, “Oh, that’s how it works.” In many ways I don’t believe something until I’ve actually seen it work.
On the other hand, I am also very theoretical. I actually have to understand the “why” behind certain things in order for me to really understand it. The real test of learning for me – or anyone, I think -  is whether I can explain a concept or something I’ve learned. If I’ve understood the concept, the theory behind it, and I’ve seen it happen, then I can probably turn around and explain it in a way that shows I really understand it.
MS> What you’ve said makes me think about critical thinking skills and the different levels of learning that an individual goes through. Bloom’s Taxonomy tells us that learning sometimes starts at most basic understanding of a subject, knowledge. From there the learning can progress to comprehension, application, analysis, and, finally, synergy.
From PAKRA’s perspective, when we develop a customized learning solution for a client, it’s important for us to understand who our end user is and what their current level of understanding is of a business process. From there, we determine what level of knowledge our products need help attain. Once we’ve established those learning goals and learned the client’s business processes, we can begin to build a gaming simulation from there.
JW> That makes perfect sense. You need to put people in a learning environment that is going to make sense for them. There is a fairly destructive tendency in our businesses (and society) to put everyone in the same learning environment and teach everyone the same skills, and that doesn’t work. It’s just not an effective or efficient way to teach someone. People need to be taught in the way that they learn best.
MS> I call this the tendency to “teach everything to everyone,” regardless of the individual learner’s needs.
While we’re on the topic of learning, tell me what is your definition of immersive learning?
JW> I think of immersive learning very simply. Whatever it is you are trying to learn, you are completely surrounded by it in some way. You are forced to find your way through a subject. You aren’t so much being taught as you are discovering. And for me, I think this works better than other ways of learning. I learn a lot through discovery and experience.
MS> Let’s talk about user adoption of new technology. What do you think drives user adoption?
JW> I think there only two things that drive adoption of new technology in a business. One, there must be a desperate need. B2B companies are really selling to people, and that’s important to remember. There was a slogan on the wall of one of my past employers that said, “Organizations fund. People buy.” It doesn’t matter if you are selling directly to a business. You are still also selling to a person or a group of people. And as ClayChristensen pointed out, people “hire” a product to do a job. The product must have a job and it must do it well. That’s when you have to look at your potential customer base. What job does my product need to do for the end user? And how can my product do this job well? When you know that, you know why the people buying it will care.
The second part of the user adoption equation is having a champion who drives the change your product will bring. There must people in the organization who are willing to do things differently in order to get that job done. Is the champion willing to do something differently, to be disrupted, in order to solve a challenge? If the answer is yes, the chances of successful user adoption are greatly increased.
MS> How do you use social media? I’ve noticed your social media presence reflects a distinct “voice.” You clearly aren’t afraid to express a point of view. Is this part of your brand?
JW> We all want to be perceived as being positive and supportive. But I think there is sometimes a false sense of positivity when people are using social media to promote themselves. We all have challenging or contrary views on certain subjects, topics that challenge our thinking, and unique viewpoints. But many people have a fear of being opinionated in the realm of social media. My experience has always been that being opinionated and expressing yourself authentically is really the best way to establish your own uniqueness and personality.
You’ll notice I’m specifically avoiding the word brand. Branding and style are two very different things, and I think that distinction is often missed. A brand is not how you’ve defined yourself on your website, it’s not your logo, it’s not your company colors. That is your style. Your style is the image that you want to project to the world. A brand is what exists in the mind of others when they think of a company, a product, or a person. Your style may feed in to your brand, but they are two unique things. The classic example is the brand of Volvo: When they think of Vovlo, people think of safety. They don’t think about the logo, the style of the website or the advertising. They think of safety. Safety is why people buy Volvo, and therefore that’s their brand.
My personal style is I tend to be opinionated and put my ideas out there; I’m not shy. This translates in to my brand, how others see me. My brand – at least what I’m told it is - is that I will challenge and disrupt your current way of thinking, help you avoid getting trapped in a rut and get that to produce positive outcomes.
MS> Jeff, as always, it’s been a lot of fun speaking to you. Thank you!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Conversations with Darren Suomi – A sales and marketing innovator, Social Selling advocate, and outdoor enthusiast.

As a sales and marketing innovator and Social Selling advocate at companies such as HootSuite and SAP AG, Darren is passionate about using social media to engage customers, manage the user experience, and drive user adoption of new technology.
MS> Darren, are you a Gamer? What types of gaming do you enjoy?
DS> I do like games. I’m extremely competitive. I’ll make a game out of the most mundane things. I’m not a gamer in the sense that I play video games till 3 AM with my friends, but I definitely like a good challenge.
MS> Do you play application-based games like Angry Birds or Words With Friends?
DS> Yes, when I have time to kill, I’ll play app-based games on my phone. I don’t actually have time for anything else!
MS> I think that’s why phone based apps have a such an appeal.  There’s almost no time commitment. There is the type of gamer who will stay up until 3 AM playing Modern Warfare 3 with his friends on-line. And then you have the other type, who’s in it for a quick experience and will play Angry Birds while sitting in a doctor’s office or stuck in traffic.
DS> Exactly.
MS> Tell me about your learning style. How do you learn? When you approach a new situation, how do you learn everything that you need to know in order to get up and running? How did you approach this effort when you joined HootSuite (provider of social media management for businesses) as a leader in their sales organization?
DS> I like to learn by doing, watching, or experiencing. I usually try to put myself directly in the mix of a new situation.  For example, if I’m coming into a sales team at a company like HootSuite, I’ll go in and observe. I don’t approach learning from a judgmental way.  I approach it as “Show me what you’re doing.”  I rarely even make comments during my observation, it’s literally just observing and soaking in how the team works. Then I follow up with questions after to make sure I fully understand the scenario with context. When I’m faced with a new situation, I approach it like I’m reading a story. I want to bring in all the information together and summarize it for myself so that I can really understand the situation. For me, practical application trumps any type of book-based academia.
MS> HootSuite’s core product offering is a social media management tool that lets a business manage multiple channels from one solution. So, obviously social media is a critical part of everything that happens at HootSuite. How do you apply social media within HootSuite?
DS>  Our application of social media extends throughout all aspects of our business, from customer support and marketing, to human resources and sales. They’re all separate moving parts of one singular engine. From a sales perspective we take the torrent of information that comes at us through social and filter it into usable streams. This is gives us a a chance to break down the information and strategically engage with our customers. Which in turn, provides leads, contacts, and situational opportunities. We’ll also schedule and send messages to our market so we’re actively participating through social while monitoring the real-time conversation happening throughout the web. We use similar tactics in customer support and to enhance our customer experience.
MS> At PAKRA, we talk to a lot of clients or prospective clients who don’t have social medial strategies or “listening strategies”. We try to educate them on the amount of information that is out there in the social sphere. We tell them to go out to Twitter and type “#servicefail” and look at what their customers are saying about them, but not directly to them. If a business isn’t aware that this exists, it’s a huge missed opportunity.
DS> Absolutely.  From more of a sales perspective, we’ll work with marketing if we’re going in to a new market. We’ll set up a social mechanism and establish a web footprint in that market. This starts by building a social community in that market before going in with a full sales effort. We’ll then engage and promote our culture and awareness so the market knows us before we launch. It helps give potential customers a familiar experience with us that isn’t sales focused.
MS> It’s about building brand awareness. It’s the precursor to sales.
DS> Agreed. We also encourage each of our sales reps to create a social media presence and manage a Twitter account. It’s that individuals voice, speaking on behalf of HootSuite, and it allows the associate to engage in a meaningful manner with prospective clients.
Along with encouraging our team to be active and engage with social media, we also equate listening in to the mix. By monitoring streams for our current customers, it lets us know how we can help amplify their messages.
MS> Talk to me about how you use Sales 2.0 philosophies to enhance your sales strategies.
DS> Sales 2.0 is a true focus on customer service, how they’re interacting online and transforming this information into hard leads. Companies should be having thoughtful conversations using social media that have real value. Keeping in mind that the content being shared and created should also bring the same value. Instead of focusing on traditional channels, like mail, to provide sales materials, a social business should drive information through their blog and website. This sets up an opportunity to track and analyze how people are engaging, and what is really grabing their attention. It should be common practice to collect information that gives insight into how customers are engaging online. From here, there should be a system in place to proactively follow-up on the information based on what a prospect’s interests seem to be.
MS> How do you train your sales force; from a new person coming in the door to a seasoned associate who needs on-going development?
DS> I think that it’s necessary to give every associate a baseline. Starting with a new associate, this person may not have a vast background in social media. They’ve probably been exposed to it, but may not know what to do with it. They may have Twitter but not use it. They may have LinkedIn but not monitor it. So we start with their baseline and immersion in social media and build from that.
Next, I begin to position the “who, what, and why” of HootSuite. What do we do? Where do we fit? What’s the value proposition of our product? Who is our customer base?
Then we talk about the sales process and the tactical aspects of the job. How do I get a meeting? What do I say when I get a meeting? How can we really drive the sales cycle?
From there, I’m a strong believer in ongoing development. I look at who my future leaders are. As we grow, we need to identify the next generation of leaders in the company. We need proactively address the development needs of those individuals who might be stepping leadership roles.
MS> In your experience, what are the drivers behind user adoption of a new technology?
DS> The easier it is to adopt a new experience; the more likely a user will stick with it. New technology needs to be exciting, make people inquisitive and make the consumer feel like that piece of technology is the future. It also must fill a need that has not been met, or a need that the user didn’t know existed. Ultimately, in order to achieve maximum adoption, new technology has to offer an innovative way to complete the task. There must also be ease of use and simplicity. If there isn’t ease of use, adoption will drop off.
MS> I agree. A new technology needs to be easy to use and it needs to work correctly. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be complex in what the application offers, but you’ve got to be able use it easily.
DS> If something doesn’t quite work as it should or it’s difficult manage, it’s going to be viewed as “not ready”. You can address a complex issue with technology, but it has to be user friendly.
MS> What’s your definition of immersive learning?
DS> I really have two definitions of immersive learning. First off, if something is immersive it’s also interactive. And if it’s interactive, there’s heavy involvement and stimulating all senses. Secondly, immersive learning means the environment will be rich in real world scenarios and coupled with constructive feedback.
MS> These are the two drivers behind what PAKRA does with our gaming simulation technology. We want to build our business process simulations to be fully interactive. It needs look, sound, and feel like our client’s real working environment so that an employee can learn by doing, while getting feedback every step of the way.
DS> Innovation, interaction, and ease of use are all key factors for creating new technology. When we’re talking about social media, I think that it’s important, from a business perspective, to remember to engage in different ways. Find out where your audience lives and place yourself there.
MS> Darren, it’s been really great talking to you. Thank you for your time!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Leveraging Social Media Channels – Lessons Learned in 8 hours

Sure, you’ve got a Social Media strategy. You’ve even got several channels under your Social Media strategy. But how well do you know the effectiveness of each channel? How long is it taking you to pilot, test, and determine the effective of each channel? What if you were able to determine the effectiveness of a marketing strategy before you invested significant time and effort?

Every Social Media effort at PAKRA must have a defined purpose and measurable outcomes before it’s launched. This allows us to implement a program, measure, and adjust. With many strategies, it’s possible to collect data and measure the potential impact before you’ve even made the decision to deploy the program.

Let’s look at LinkedIn as an example. PAKRA actively uses LinkedIn as a channel for both lead generation and building brand awareness. Recently, we explored the idea of using LinkedIn discussion groups to increase our lead generation efforts and better enable brand awareness on our core product offerings – business process gaming simulations and software-as-a-service (SaaS).

We set out to prove or disprove this hypothesis:

We can use LinkedIn groups to engage in discussions that generate marketing and sales leads, increase brand awareness, and enable us to be viewed as an industry expert and trusted resource for information.
So, where did we start? Did we assign resources to spend 2 – 3 hours a day managing the discussion groups? Did we launch a 30-day pilot to initiate industry relevant discussions? Did we spend weeks gathering data and measuring results?

None of the above!
Before we spent time and resources launching this strategy – we observed, we collected data, and we analyzed what we found. Over the course of 2 days and a total of 8 hours, we collected data from over from over 40 different industry specific groups and from 150 different discussion posts (that contained at least 3 comments per post).

Next, we set out to gather data that would answer the question:
“Is there a right way or wrong way to message in LinkedIn groups that will lead to group members responding more often and engaging in discussions?”

To answer this question, we did the following:
1. Tracked the number of user responses to each discussion post
2. Scored the effectiveness (highly effective, somewhat effective, not effective) of each discussion post based on multiple criteria:
  • Relationship to group goals – How effectively a discussion post is related to the stated purpose and goals of the group
  • Overly promotional – The degree to which a discussion avoids transparent self-promotion or product promotion
  • Helpful information – The degree to which information received from the discussion will be helpful to other group members and the originator of the discussion
  • Actionable information - How usable and actionable the posted responses will be to other group members and the originator of the discussion
  • Trusted advisor status – Will the discussion posted and responses received result in the originator becoming a reliable source for information and advice
  • Empathy – How effectively the post relates to the goals, concerns, and issues of the specific group
  • Tone – The degree to which the posted discussion shows sincerity, humor, and a personal tone
3. Each post was then ranked by:
  • Number of responses received (largest number of discussion responses ranked highest)
  • Total effectiveness score (largest overall effectiveness score ranked highest)
What we found was something very interesting!
Based on the Rank of Responses and Rank of Total Score, we saw some relationships emerge.
Relationship 1: High response ranking, low total score ranking
“Hi everyone! If you’re new to the group, please introduce yourself by commenting on this discussion!”
This is an example of a discussion that ranked highly in the number of responses. In fact, this discussion resulted in over 8,000 responses. But it had a very low ranking for total score.
We saw that those discussions with the highest number of responses but that ranked lowest in score relied on very few of the effectiveness measures. These discussions tended to be non-actionable and / or overly promotional and scored lowly in relationship to the groups goals, generating helpful responses, and positioning the originator of the discussion as trusted advisor. For a product company such as ours, overly promotional discussions that result in non-actionable responses will not help us meet our goal of generating marketing and sales leads or positioning ourselves as a trusted expert in our space.

Relationship 2: Middle range response ranking, middle range total score ranking
“When Does the Relationship Between Sales Person and Prospect Begin?”
This is an example of a discussion that fell in the middle range for both number of responses and total score ranking.
These discussions tended score as “somewhat effective” in the criteria of tone, empathy, and relationship to the group’s goals. But they also tended to score as “ineffective” or “somewhat effective” in the criteria of actionable responses, helpful information, and positioning the originator of the discussion as a trusted advisor. This group of discussions also failed to meet PAKRA’s goals for lead generation or brand development.

Relationship 3: Middle to high response ranking, middle to high total score ranking
“Are serious games being used to assess, not just develop? There's increasing interest in using games not just in Learning & Development, but also in assessment. Do you know of any examples?”
This is an example of a discussion that fell in the middle to high range for both number of responses and total score ranking.
The second circle in the chart represents those discussions that had a medium to high response ranking and scored as “somewhat effective” to “effective” in the messaging criteria. We found that this circle represents discussions between subject matter “Gurus” and independent contractors. This group does meet our target market or our goals of lead generation and brand development.

What did PAKRA learn from this exercise?
Based upon this analysis, we learned LinkedIn discussion groups are not an effective space for us to launch a marketing campaign to meet our goals of generating leads, increasing our brand as an industry expert, or being viewed as a trusted resource in gaming simulations and SaaS platforms for our target market.

If you launched a similar exercise, would you have the same results? This is not the question you should ask! The question is not whether our results and findings are replication-agnostic or whether our results will always hold true for you. The question to ask is “will this marketing campaign meet my identified goals in my target market?” It’s critical to understand your own marketing goals, your target market, and the marketing channel that you are exploring.

The key finding to our exercise is that there is free, publicly available data that will allow you to determine patterns and help you understand how a specific channel works. This allows you to identify how people engage and then decide if this is what you want to emulate in a given campaign and whether you will meet your desired goals.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Conversations with Garry Schultz - a customer care visionary, author, and classical musician

As a customer care visionary and past customer service leader for global organizations such as Sonic Solutions, Roxio, and RIM; Garry Schultz is passionate about delivering best in class service with a relentless focus on the customer.

This interview with Garry is part of our series about learning, games, social media, crowd-sourcing, and work performance.

RD> Are you a gamer? If yes, what are your favorite Games?

GS> Rini, yes I go way back with computer games, from the very start with the command line games. You know - 'pick up gold', 'run fast', and literal typed commands. From there I recall spending time in the first-person-shooter game Wolfinstien, then Duke Nukem. My favorite type of game is The SIMs. I also like the puzzle based game genre, but I am a little dated with titles. I don't have as much time to game these days as I once had but I keep up with the newest offerings. However, I haven't seen significant new developments in some time. MMOs (massively multiplayer online games) are interesting and the innovation of deploying them in real-time, with multiple players is certainly a cool play.

And my favorite games? Well I have been bitten by the Angry Birds craze on my iPad. Rovio Corp’s attention to detail and the way the programmers have married quasi-real world physics to the game world is great..... I mean the trajectory calculations of the birds and the fashion in which the structures collapse - genius! Really nice balance of whimsy and reality - just the right mix.

Professionally, and you know this as we have riffed on the topic - games have a huge business centric potential with Gen X and Gen Y (and just around the corner Gen Z). Consider that the average attention span of a young person today is dynamically different than it was when I has coming up. Today, access to Information is instantaneous. Sure libraries are still there, but why would a student spend an evening in the stacks when she can wiki up answers, with references, in 9 nano seconds. So, while I was expected to weed through and absorb a wall of documentation at my first job = today's entry level associates need to be fed pertinent information in short, sharp bites. This is where games come in. Educate through interactive gaming.... learntainment, enterlearnment? The Germans probably have a word for it.

RD> You have written a book about customer care, The Customer Care and Contact Center Handbook (published by ASQ Quality Press) What are the key ingredients that make a world class customer care organization? Do you see the key ingredients changing over time?

GS> The key ingredient is to serve your target customer and to have a relentless focus on the consumer. Where this over-simplification gets to be interesting is balancing customer needs with fiscal restraints. This is to suggest that one cannot always economically deliver what the consumer wishes.

The key ingredients to world class customer care have not changed but what has changed are the channels, conduits, and turnaround time to deliver the services. Point in fact - I was listening to a web-cast a couple of weeks ago and the context was Social Media (SM). The crux of the presentation was positioned as a new innovation: crowd-sourcing. But when the speaker delved into crowd-sourcing it was evident that crowd-sourcing has huge overlap with the concept of 'forum gurus' which is an old concept given a new set of clothes in the context of social media.

It’s the same relationship of mass collaboration that is brokered by personnel who aren’t on payroll. Call it what you may, but it’s been around for sometime.

There are a few real challenges with social media. It’s the turnaround time issue, the immediate response that Twitter users expect, the limitation of 140 characters, and making sure that you do not discount corporate liability based on precedent (If Fred got a free upgrade where is mine? And why are you making me ask for it? Just give me what Fred got.).

RD> How can social media channels be leveraged for customer care?

GS> First off let's be clear - managing social media channels is not an option... it is a necessity! If you are reading this and do not have a social media strategy in place - give me a call. I can assist. The key here is to be up and operational on SM for your Customers - they demand it to be so.

Enough on NOT acting.

Social media channels can be leveraged very effectively and I could write a book on the topic - and I am. So let me riff on the foundation of SM in the customer care context… First off, if you want to be successful with your customers in the SM context - take off your customer care hat and get with your counterparts in Marketing and Sales. Social media, at this stage of the game, cannot be compartmentalized into pre-sales, sales, marketing, and post-sale support disciplines. The lines aren’t even grey, they are non-existent. The necessary approach goes across the organization like no other channel.

So, it is time to collaborate closely with your colleagues in other departments.

And secondly - once you are sitting down with your colleagues, the stakeholders, define a working charter for SM. Understand what your goals are as a corporation. From there you can get into the operational business of scalability, repeatability, SLAs, and meaningful performance metrics. These are the core competencies for customer care professionals.

RD> You led a large organization which managed global consumers and their needs. Do you see big differences (due to socio-cultural, geographic, demographic differences) among consumers in how they want to receive customer care and what their expectations are?

GS> Big question, Rini. The short answer is - yes.

The longer answer? There are significant differences based on cultural norms and expectations. Further, there are overlapping differences within cultures (a Venn diagram of this would be interesting exercise) based on additional factors such as: age of the sub-group within the demographic, computer literacy of the sub-group and the whole issue of entitlement. Let`s explore two extremes in the context of non-mission critical consumer software.

EASY - Generation Y... the Millennial. If a failure is experienced, Gen Ys do not reach for the phone. They often go to their own peer-network and find a maven in their sphere-of-acquaintances. Further they are quite at home with self-service and online knowledge bases. The Millennial knows how to conduct an effective search and can understand the subsequent instructions to rectify a failure.

HARD – Baby Boomers...the retiree. If a failure is experienced, the baby-boomer reaches for the phone. They do not have an effective peer-network and often have gaps in their general knowledge and computer literacy. There is an illustrative video of a comedian on YouTube that pokes some fun at the dynamic, fast forward to 4:40 in the video....

Kidding aside - we need to assist the Boomers and Gen Y, and the industry does.

RD> How do you learn? The new and younger associates coming to work in customer care organizations -- do they learn differently than you and me?

GS> I am a visual learner. Show me a graphic and I get the message, text takes me more time to absorb. But the key is... Let me give you an example.

I have wonderful daughter and I taught her a mantra and have reinforced it her entire life. It is really simple.

Ask questions and listen

Jenna is 26 now and has completed three degrees. The truly hard part of the mantra is the 'listen' component. We are simply not good at listening and the fact is that the younger we are, the less developed our ability to listen is. There is no doubt Mother Nature has a sense of humor; when young she endows us with the ability to absorb and learn at our most accelerated rate.... but with a smile she dampens youth’s ability to effectively listen. Funny lady.

That said, today's entry level personnel require training to be tuned to their world. Knowledge transfer (and validation) is one of the most difficult challenges in today's businesses. As I said earlier, attention span is different with today's youth. SMS text messaging has taught a generation to communicate in a truncated form. They talk in sentence fragments (okay - so do I at times) and if you observe them at a party, they don’t seem to have the patience to get through a four minute pop song but continually 'sample scan' snippets of tunes. Golly, as an effective punishment for Gen Y they should be made to sit down and listen to Wagner's entire Ring Cycle (eat your peas.... don't make me get the Wagner). Don't get me wrong, the reality is there is nothing wrong with any of these Gen Y attributes, they are simply different.

What needs to change is our idea of how to effectively transfer knowledge. Like our Customers, we have to come to our associates in a fashion that resonates. And this is the utility of training by games. Not to be thought of 'slight of hand' but a powerful tool to not only get the fundamentals across but to have a meaningful gauge of the success of the knowledge transfer.

RD> How do you think current training practices meeting the needs of customer care organizations?

GS> Not very well. I have worked with some large players in the outsourcing business and for the most part my observation is that training lags available innovation. At best, some of the organizations have put up computer based testing (CBT) programs and rendered the testing (knowledge transfer validation) online. But the core issue of training line personnel in how to handle customers has not progressed. The issue isn't technical knowledge but the old customer care stalwarts of empathy, listening and effectively assisting the consumer. And when it comes to social media, the training chasm is vast and is one of the drivers behind why most organizations that are active on social media channels are doing the work in-house.

RD> How do you envision using games and simulations to teach people what to do here?

GS> This is where I think PAKRA has an incredible play and opportunity. The PAKRA training demos that I have seen are excellent and I believe will resonate with the target Gen Ys that make up the majority of the post-sale talent pool. It’s a win/win. The little touches, like the guy who walks by the cubicle and his comments are golden, it brings levity to the exercise which is another resonator. I think an agent accustomed to the text based format of most CBT programs will embrace the far more dynamic PAKRA world. As for portability, repeatability and scalability PAKRA slams traditional teacher-lecture based models. The gold spot - training that is enjoyable to progress through.

RD> What is next for you?

GS> Professionally, I have a number of pokers in the fire - to borrow a phrase. I have been working with my publisher (ASQ Quality Press) on two additional manuscripts - one on social media and one on contact centers for the entry level hiree. And I am at the initial stages of entering the customer care consulting game - but truth be told my target is the right opportunity regardless of the structure.

On the creative side, being that I have had some time of late, I have managed to finally release a CD of original compositions. You can find them on iTunes if you search for Garry Schultz or Cheerful Insanity. I’ve also rediscovered the joy of some of the classical etudes I was taught back-in-the-day.

RD> Thanks for your time today, Garry. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for you.

GS> Thanks, Rini. It’s been great catching up.