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!