April 7th, 2015 by Oren Smilansky

Last week at InfusionCon in Phoenix, Johnny Earle, creator of the t-shirt brand Johnny Cupcakes, took the stage to share his insights with an audience of over 3,000 small business owners. Though he himself can’t be much older than 30, he’s already seen quite a bit of business experience, having run 16 businesses before he turned 16 years old and starting the brand when he was only 19. The company presents something of a false advertisement: it has nothing to do with cupcakes at all. But the t-shirt brand has generated a cult following in the 14 years since its inception.  Here are three of the most inspirational bits of advice entrepreneurs should note from his story.

1.Experiment. Much of Earle’s success can be attributed to his willingness to try new things. His idea for Johnny Cupcakes rose out of one of the random nicknames given to him by the coworkers at the Boston record shop he was working at just after he finished high school. Being a creative person with maybe a bit of time on his hands, he decided to print “Johnny Cupcakes” onto a t-shirt. He wore a customized cupcake and crossbones shirt to work, and intrigued the record collectors who came to the shop. People who visited the store regularly, but rarely spoke to him , started to ask about the company. Was this a real cupcake store? He realized that if the shirt was a big enough conversation starter to get those who usually kept to themselves talking,  he might be onto something, so he continued to play with the idea and took it further and further.

2. Individualize. A key takeaway from ICON 15 is that it’s always a good idea for companies offer as much of their personalities to customers as they can to create a lasting bond. Presenting a genuine, slightly flawed, and recognizably human sensibility goes a long way when trying establish a loyal connection with a customer. In his presentation, Earle pointed out something that hardly needs to be pointed out anymore, but it still worth repeating–it’s nearly impossible to do something that hasn’t already been done. He recommended periodically writing down 12 things that make you unique, as a way of figuring out what you can do to make your product stand out. In his business, the small decision model each of his t-shirt shops  to look like ‘bakeries’ was enough to get people coming in and seeing the world through his idiosyncratic point of view.

3. Focus. Focus was another recurring theme of InfusionCon at large. For small businesses, focus is especially important, since many of them don’t have the time and resources that larger companies do to dedicate to more than one area. Whether it’s putting your all into one social media outlet, or one specific type of client, it’s important to pay attention to only the areas that will prove most fruitful to business. Earle had to narrow down his focus. He had a lot of interests, like making buttons, creating and selling scarves, and performing in a hardcore metal band, but he recognized that his potential was in t-shirt making. There was something  special and unique in shirts which advertise a cupcake shop that doesn’t exist. Realizing that there was a lot he could do with this idea, he built it up as much as he could and eventually brought it to the level it’s at today.

April 2nd, 2015 by Maria Minsker

Held in the city of sin, this year’s Gartner Business Intelligence Summit didn’t disappoint. Synthesis was the key theme of the show, and analysts emphasized the importance of merging traditional and fresh approaches to BI to prepare for the next phase of the data revolution. Though some analysts urged BI professionals to be cautious and deliberate, others called for boldness and bravery in the field. Here are my top ten takeaways from the event:

1. “Stop treating shadow BI like the enemy. Embrace citizen developers, analysts, scientists, and data integrators.”
-Kurt Schlegel, Gartner analyst and conference chair.

2. “Change is always risky, but not changing is riskier.”
-Lisa Kart, Gartner analyst.

3. “Protecting the past is senseless. You have to claim the future. Lift false constraints to synthesize new opportunities.”
-Frank Buytendijk, Gartner analyst.

4. “The most profound human activity and pleasure is learning.”
-Francis Ford Coppola, film director, producer, and screenwriter.

5. “This is the end of power and the beginning of empowerment–BI needs to adapt to this new reality.”
-Dan Sommer, Gartner analyst.

6. “IT is increasingly under attack…you have to go on the offensive.”
-Tina Nunno, Gartner analyst.

7. “Synthesis must fill the gap when data is absent and dilemmas exist…get away from the tyranny of ‘or’ and embrace the genius of ‘and.'”
-Frank Buytendijk, Gartner analyst.

8. “By 2018, the data discovery and data management will drive a majority of organizations to augment centralized analytic architectures with decentralized approaches.”
-Alan D. Duncan, Gartner analyst.

9. “By 2017 the number of citizen data scientists will grow five times faster than [the number of] expert data scientists.”
-Lisa Kart, Gartner analyst.

10. “IoT data is dark data with significant potential value…shed light on the dark data to improve operational performance.”
-Doug Laney, Gartner analyst.

March 30th, 2015 by Oren Smilansky

I’m usually pretty careful with my phone, but I spilled water on it a few weeks ago and it has been giving me trouble ever since. It’s been acting unpredictably: not recognizing my charger, and turning off and on at will.

I’ve had this phone for about a year and a half, and I qualify for an upgrade, so it’s about time to replace it, anyway. After wrestling my phone until I was finally able to get it to cooperate, I called my service provider, which I’ll opt not to name in this post.

Calling them on the phone, I now realize, was my first mistake.  I went out of my way to make it clear that I’d recently changed my address and would need to have the device shipped to the new one. Not long after I got off the phone, though, I got a confirmation email saying that the phone had been shipped to my old address. I couldn’t deal with the issue right away, so it took a few hours before I called to have it rerouted to the new address, which the representative confirmed.

The next day I got another email, this one indicating that the phone had been rerouted back to the company warehouse.  I called again to ask what had happened, but the rep couldn’t give me a straight answer. No matter. I asked if I could go to a local store and pick it up there instead. Yes, I could do that, he said.

Since I’ve had bad experiences at the company’s stores in the past, I made a point of checking the online ratings for each of the local branches near me before going in. Most were pretty poorly rated—which I realize doesn’t necessarily mean much, since in many cases it’s only the least satisfied customers who take the time to comment—but I saw one that was slightly higher than the others. I decided I’d go to that one. I wasted no time when I got there. “I’d like to upgrade my phone,” I told the rep. After I gave him my info, he paused when and shook his head, the way reps have been doing for years when they come across a problem that has the potential to  embarrass a customer. “The system says there’s already been an upgrade made on this account,” he said. Yes, I said, but it’s been cancelled. “I was told I could come in and pick it up today.” He shook his head again, said that the phone had been ordered from a store in New Jersey, and that I was free to contact them if I chose to, but he wouldn’t do it.  Why he couldn’t call them, I asked, since he works for the same company? They’re an independent retailer, he said. My phone wasn’t working, and I didn’t feel like making a phone call over this man’s shoulder, so I left the store. A few more days without a high-performance phone wouldn’t be that bad, I figured.

I waited five days, hoping that would give the issue time to resolve itself. The next time I went toanother, better rated store, hopeful that I would walk out with a new phone.  The rep said that I did qualify for the upgrade and that he could get it for me, no problem. I had a good feeling as I spoke to this tablet-equipped rep, who presented the options and accessories clearly and in detail.

After the rep explained everything in detail, it was about time to check out. There it was, the phone, concealed in its box, behind the nylon, taunting me. I began practically to salivate as I imagined how much better my life might be with this improved technology. More room for videos, better games, heightened functionality. Etcetera. But there was a problem again. The outstanding order still had not been cancelled. He showed me the screen on his tablet which indicated as much.

Could we do anything about it? He made a phone call to see if he could figure out the problem. “So when will he be able to get the phone?” he asked the person on the other end.  It would take about a week to process, he told me. “Make sure you call and make sure it’s ready before you come in,” he instructed. I didn’t bother to tell him that I had made more than one phone call over the past few weeks, but left the store, frustrated.

Well, it’s been a week since that last store visit, and I still haven’t got my new phone. I called the company again yesterday, but I knew I had to ask the right questions this time so as to avoid wasting time and energy going to a store. Sure enough, after a bit of digging, I found that the phone had arrived back at the company’s warehouse but still hadn’t been cancelled.  I’d have to wait another week, and that there would be no way to speed up the process.

A minute or so after I hung up, I got an automated call, asking me to submit my rating. They could tell I’d been displeased with my experience, but I was even further displeased with the idea that they could call me back on the phone and ask me to give them more of my time to rate them. And tonight, a supervisor from the company called me. I told her I didn’t have time to speak (which was the truth).

I realize my story is winded, but my experience has been pretty tedious. I’ve been researching for a feature about customer experience mapping, so these types of issues have been on my mind of late. One of the most grating customer experiences, in my opinion,  is when I have  to go out of my way to do the work that the company should be doing do help me.

I’m sure my “journey” isn’t unique, but I hope that things change for such companies.  It’s just so ironic that communication with a telephone service provider could be so broken and disjointed.

March 26th, 2015 by Maria Minsker

Google always keeps it fresh, so it’s no surprise that the company is now revising its search algorithm to factor in Web sites’ mobile experiences. Does this finally mean that I won’t get stuck in link-loading purgatory after clicking on the top result in my mobile browser? I certainly hope that’s the case.

So, what does this mean brands that are guilty of having less-than-stellar mobile sites or companies that still refuse to incorporate responsive design into their Web pages? Soon, their pages will be on their way to the bottom of the search results unless they take the steps necessary for revamping their mobile look. But Google isn’t leaving brands that can’t afford expensive Web site overhauls out to dry–the search engine giant is inviting them to take advantage of the Google AdWords Premiere SMB Partner Program and work with partner companies to improve their mobile experiences.

Search Optics, for example, was recently named a Google AdWords partner. The company’s expertise is in paid and organic search, and it’s backed by more than 150 Google-certified employees—more than any other marketing firm in its industry, according to a company spokesperson. And, on average, customers capture more than 50 percent of their leads from mobile shoppers using Search Optics, according to the company. Brands like Ford, Land Rover and BMW rely on Search Optics for automotive and responsive web design, and work with the vendor to launch mobile-first campaigns that promise to be highly ranked by Google. 

“The Google AdWords Premier SMB Partner Program was created to help small- and medium-sized businesses who don’t have time or resources to manage their advertising campaigns,” Ben Wood, head of Google’s Americas channel sales partnerships, said in a company statement. “Our PSP partners like Search Optics offer expertise, experience and end-to-end customer service so business owners can focus on running their business,” he added.

Moving forward, there will be no avoiding an emphasis on mobile experience. A recent study from Duke University revealed some interesting insight on marketing budgets–mobile advertising currently takes up 3.2 percent of marketing budgets but will triple to about 9 percent in the next three years. Google is taking this trend very seriously, and so should brands.

March 23rd, 2015 by Oren Smilansky

Those of you who follow this blog might recall my post about JetBlue just a few weeks ago. Well, I guess I’m not the only one who appreciates good snacks and television while he’s in the air. The company made the news recently, ranking as the number one rated airline in Temkin’s 2015 customer experience survey.

The survey drew from 10,000 respondents and asked them to comment on 293 consumer brands across 20 industries, with each participant rating the brands according to three criteria: success (ability to accomplish what they set out to accomplish), effort (how easy it was to accomplish), and emotion (how they feel about the company). Among the airlines, JetBlue scored the highest overall with 75% (70% being “good”, and 80% being “excellent”). It was reported as a great improvement over their score last year, 60%, which landed them in the middle of the table.

I can’t say this surprises me, since as I’ve already written, I think they offer an all-around great experience despite some occasional flaws.  I don’t know how great an indicator this is, but I think they’re the only airline I’ve ever flown with who I sometimes wish I could stay on for longer, just to avoid getting back to real life for an hour or two. I learned today that my colleagues agree, since similar sentiment came up in conversation at the CRM offices today during our weekly meeting (independent of my writings on the topic).

The company stepped up its offerings recently, allowing coast-to-coast flyers the Mint program. I don’t think I’ll be jumping at the opportunity to spend $600 for a ticket just yet, but it’s nice that the option exists. My colleague mentioned that she saw a couple of newlyweds using the service for some privacy during their honeymoon, so I suppose there are practical uses for it.

Here are the rest of the rankings:

2. Southwest Airlines 72%
3. Delta Airlines 69%
4. Alaska Airlines 69%
5. Virgin America 63%
6. American Airlines 57%
7. United Airlines 56%
8. US Airways 55%
9. AirTran Airways 52%
10. Spirit Airlines 47%

It’s worth pointing out that 70% of the companies on this list are not offering passengers a “good” customer experience, with those ranked 3rd or lower scoring 69% or less.


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