Just back from the Forrester Consumer Forum. I say just back, but actually it took place in my hometown, Chicago. There was a great turn out and some very engaging keynotes. One of the major benefits of attending a Forrester event is the quality of presenters and attendees. I had lunch with Brad Brooks, VP of Consumer Windows Marketing at Microsoft and got to question him on their new retail store strategy. He was very engaging and open, and if this is a harbinger of things to come from Microsoft, it will be interesting to watch them. The forum theme was The Three Dimensional Consumer: Creating Breakthrough Multichannel relationships. Forrester defines the three dimensions through the lens of the consumer; their needs, interests and questions. Not a groundbreaking thought by itself, but the way in which Forrester shaped the content with context and examples was very effective and useful.
Consumers are becoming more digital, more mobile and more social. These stats were presented in an opening day Keynote by Henry Harteveldt, a VP and Principal Analyst with Forrester.
- 79% of US consumers are online and 75% of that number have high speed Internet access
- 18 – 43 year olds spent 20% more time online in 2009 than they did in 2007
- 62% of US online consumers who purchased a financial product in 2009 researched it on the web first
- 46% more people belong to social networking sites compared to a year ago
- Twitter grew 1,382% year over year, registering 7 million new users in February of 2009 alone
- 97% of phones are data devices
- 36% of smart phone users and 63% of iPhone users access the web every day from their device
At Forrester everything comes in threes, so Mr. Harteveldt laid out a framework depicting the three things digital consumers expect from brands; information, transactions and help. Information = engagement, transaction = interaction and help = deliver great service.
He offered some great advice on how to excel in satisfying the needs of the digital consumer across all channels.
- Offer channel appropriate communications
- Match the task with the channel/device
- Use social media (if relevant to your customers)
- Replicate off line processes online
- Extend digital channels into the off line world
- Provide relevant tools, forms, payment options, etc.
- Excel at service (make it easy, channel-agnostic and utilize social media for immediacy)
Harvey was humorous, bright and on target. Right out of the textbook for Forrester; a balanced mix of facts and vision.
One of the most entertaining and genuine presenters of the forum was Virginia Suliman, VP of Digital Design and Development for Hilton Worldwide with Hospitality is All Around You: How Hilton Delivers Consistently Good Multichannel Guest Experiences. I’m a Hilton Honors member and have been for a while. It’s a brand on my personal watch list. She began with a nod to a world gone by, a nostalgic look at Conrad Hilton’s original vision for the hotel chain. Mr. Hilton wanted there to be a Hilton on the moon. Connie, have you taken leave of your senses? it’s location, location, location. The moon is not on the way to any place.
Ms. Suliman observed that the hotel experience and the home experience have begun to converge. Hotel furniture, bedding, beds and flat screens are easily attainable and affordable for millions of consumers. The cocooning of the early 2000’s and the current economic downturn have caused personal and business travel to slow. She spoke of how her biggest challenge is getting staff to be genuine to customers across all their brands, even the limited service properties. She said, “Hilton is not a technology company, it’s a hotel company.” I really respected her approach to solving the multichannel, multidimensional problem. She attacked the customer experience with a framework that is essentially a usability model.
But the real solution was in fact technology, despite her downplaying this aspect of the firm. Hilton built an integrated infrastructure platform connecting consumers to all properties so employees at any of the hotels would have access to the same master database. It’s called OnQ and provides a 360 degree view of the customer, including preferences, but is optimized for profitability. This is a reminder that if you are a big brand (like mine) with lots of customers, outlets and channels, you can be as genuine as pie, but you won’t fully excel without strong technology skills.
Hilton has realized positive business impact as a result of the OnQ effort. They track revenue per available room as a key metric and grew it by 6.2% after OnQ was installed. They have also extended this platform into Hilton University for training.
CMO of Best Buy, Barry Judge gave a talk a talk called Blurring the Lines Between Customer Service and Marketing. Barry and Best Buy really get the social media concept. I had the privilege of sitting on a panel with another Best Buy executive, Tracy Benson, Senior Director of Digital, also of Best Buy. She told me they set up a monitor in Barry’s office years ago that was tuned to the social media channel. A rolling screen of direct customer conversations; irresistible. Soon he was asking for it to be available on his mobile device and then began responding to customers directly. He also started a blog barryjudge.com.
Key messages in Mr. Judge’s presentation were:
- Talk with customers, not at them
- It’s about customer 2.0 – not just keeping the doors and phone lines open, but proactively going out to look for customers to serve
- The best marketing is when the consumer doesn’t even know it’s marketing (candidate for best forum quote)
- Their mission – Buyer be Happy
Their Twelpforce (Twitterers) are licensed to help customers. Best Buy employees who want to Tweet for customer support have to take a test and receive a badge, official deputies of Twelpforce. Best Buy’s experience and learnings in this arena have led them to create a Social Shopping Facebook page with over 1 million fans. It will be followed up with a new web site premiering on Christmas day that has the objective of helping consumers get the most out of their electronics purchase. Tips, tricks, user-generated content and experiences.
Their mobile iPhone application allows consumers to see products, reviews and prices; full transparency. This shows that Best Buy has moved beyond the fears of Social Media that paralyze most firms, and into a brave new frontier. This kind of courage will pay handsome dividends. One more note on their mobile efforts. You can text a short code related to products and immediately be sent all the reviews.
No consumer forum would be complete without Harley Manning making a plea, a begging plea in fact on one knee for marketers to embrace the multichannel customer with his presentation Designing a Multichannel Customer Experience in the Real World. His presentation was a mash-up of personal experiences, stories, Forrester frameworks and very sharp new ideas. Hard to keep up with him sometimes, but therein lies the fun. Here are some of his insights.
- Design with channel pairs in mind. Most projects are single design projects, but channel transition is likely in almost any interaction, so plan for it
- Pay attention to the most connected channel. Where will the consumer learn about the message first?
- Solve the small problems first and build allies in the organization. This will enable you to bridge the the channels in bigger projects later on
- Use research, especially ethnographic research
- Create multichannel customer experience maps and multichannel management platforms
Getting executive buy-in is compulsory, so Mr. Manning provided a test sheet you can self-administer that will help you determine which category your executives fall in related to digital and multichannel design. You will find out if they are passive, willing or engaged. Once you type the executive you can tailor your discussions and presentations to that style with the objective of moving them along the path to engaged.
If you attended the forum, I’d love to hear your reaction to this post and get your own observations.