May 1st, 2014 by Sarah Sluis

“I don’t have any problem accessing information today. I have a problem accessing the right information for the right device at the right time,” explained analyst and consultant Brian Vellmure at the session “Unlocking the Power of Digital Networks” at this year’s SugarCon in San Francisco, California. According to Vellmure, companies that will win in this digital age will do so by becoming “the most valuable node in a network.” But how?

Look for Timeless Lessons from Old Networks. A potential answer to Vellmure’s question emerged in a keynote session at SugarCon by customer experience expert Shep Hyken. He told the story of an amazing customer service experience he had with a cab driver in Dallas. Despite looking disheveled, which originally set low expectations, this private driver took him on detours to see the sights, had cold sodas and fresh newspapers in the car, and charged a fair price. The result? Great tips, incredible word-of-mouth recommendations, and most importantly, loyalty. Hyken used the same cab driver every time he went to Dallas, and told everyone he knew to use him too. Compare that to traditional cab drivers, who don’t cultivate a customer base, instead choosing to offer an undifferentiated product. They may earn a good living, but nowhere near Hyken’s cab driver, who apparently earned in the six figures by treating his customers differently and encouraging them to call him directly.

Help Customers Accomplish What They Want to Do, and Make Them Feel Good. Hyken’s cab driver got his customers where they wanted to go in a clean, comfortable environment, helping them accomplish their goals. But he also made them feel good, by treating them far better than a normal cab driver and excelling in the customer experience. For companies today who want to be a valuable node in a network, concentrating on success in those areas will increase word-of-mouth. Connections to your company will be stronger, and it will be easier to extend your brand with a positive reputation and loyal customers who serve as your advocates.

Be Relevant. The cab driver in Hyken’s story tried to be relevant to his customers the old-fashioned way: he asked if they wanted to go to the airport quickly, or whether they were in the mood for a diversion to one of Texas’ sights. There was a selection of drinks, and a selection of reading material. These days, companies are trying harder than ever before to bring the personalization a customer can get from a face-to-face connection to the online experience. That’s where retargeting and personalized homepages come in. Something like Facebook and Twitter is by default a hyperpersonalized experience, showing you only the activity of your 500 friends and not random updates from the more than one billion users of the service. Even then, it’s striven to make its News Feed even more personal, showing you more frequent updates from the people you care about most. That’s relevance in a world with unlimited information.

Digital networks also have disruptive effects that seem less universally positive. Much has been made of the democratizing nature of social media, which allows almost anyone to become a YouTube superstar or have a viral Tweet. But Vellmure showed that in an era with unlimited content but limited attention spans, only a small percentage of people will receive the most rewards. For those who don’t focus their attention on being valuable to those around them, there will be consequences. “Those that are on top get hyper-rewarded. The rest fall off,” he cautioned.

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