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Smart tech best practices: why marketing and support need to be joined at the hip

What Las Vegas hotel would you rather stay at? The Venetian or the Rio? Most people would say the Venetian. But business book author MJ Demarco would argue vehemently with you. In his book “The Millionaire Fastlane,” a book he wrote in 2011, he relates his experience staying at both hotels.

The Rio is an older hotel, a little frayed at the edges. Not the kind of hotel a high roller would normally want to be seen at. But DeMarco was pleasantly surprised at the excellent service he received. The friendly greetings and caring treatment from hotel staff. How they went out of their way to make sure his stay was comfortable.

Then he transferred to The Venetian, one of Vegas’ most spectacular, shiny hotels with all the right touches: opulent architecture with “ornate columns and corbels, lavish chandeliers, and other affluent appointments that scream royalty.”

Customer Journey Support Checklist

But Demarco said he would never stay there again. The service “sucked” as he so succinctly said. Housekeeping was unresponsive. Hold times for hotel services unacceptable. Staff were robotic. Prices were exorbitant. You get the picture.

Now what does a story about a stay in Sin City have to do with customer service in the consumer IoT industry? Plenty.

In an industry that is still at the beginning states, where technology is sexy and cutting edge but still somewhat unstable, and copycat products are nipping at your heals, your biggest differentiator is your service.

In fact your customer support processes and support people are probably your biggest competitive differentiators.

If you deliver outstanding support and treat your customers as VIPs throughout their experience with you, you’ll make marketing less relevant!

Marketing Doesn’t Really Start Until You Get A Customer

So why are marketing and customer support at consumer IoT companies joined at the hip? It boils down to my favorite definition of marketing.

First, what is your definition of marketing? At a recent conference for startups I posed this question to the audience during my talk. Most people’s answer was a version of this: “To create awareness for your product.”

That’s a start, but it’s incomplete. Peter Drucker, the 20th Century’s foremost management guru said:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Fast-forward to today, Ryan Deiss, Co-Founder and CEO of Digitalmarketer.com said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that marketing is to help move the customer along the journey with your company, including (and I would say especially) after they become a customer.

In his epic article Customer Value Optimization: How to Build an Unstoppable Business, Deiss explains the economics behind a McDonald’s Hamburger. He asks whether you and I would be shocked if we found out that McDonald’s makes almost no profit from the sale of their hamburgers.

Source: https://www.digitalmarketer.com/blog/customer-value-optimization/

The cost of their hamburger barely covers the cost of getting a customer in the door.

Then they invented the value meal.

While they make an average profit of only $0.18 on each hamburger, when they upgrade you to fries and a Coke, they make an extra $1.14 in profit. In total they make a profit of $1.32 per value meal, which is a whopping 7.3 times more profit than the sale of a single hamburger.

It’s in McDonald’s best interest to sell more per customer. But is that it? No. They want you to keep coming back and buy more and more.

In fact, the Customer Value Optimization concept Deiss describes is all about marketing to customers once they have become a customer.

Support Feeds the Consumer IoT Marketing Pipeline

If marketing doesn’t really begin until after you get a customer, how does support at a consumer IoT company help with the marketing function?

There are four ways.

Market Research

Because of the complexity and maturity of the innovative technologies in the home tech and wearables spaces, there are infinite reasons for customers to open a support ticket.

Through data analytics that tracks and produces intelligence on support trends, support can identify:

  1. Common user errors
  2. Common requests
  3. Common product errors

Product marketing can use this data to quickly improve product functionality, correct errors, improve user interfaces, and invent new features.

cta blueprint call

Sell more stuff

Customer support can design automated workflows to sell more, in addition to helping solve problems. When is a customer more open to a product recommendation that when they’ve gotten a resolution to their issue?

Ensure customers become net promoters

In the #FlipMyFunnel Account-Based Marketing methodology diagram, the base of the flipped funnel is the “Advocate” layer. This is increasingly becoming more and more common, as customer support and customer service are quickly becoming the distinguishing feature for winning companies.

Your best marketers are your ecstatically happy customers. They share on social media. They rave on forums. They tell their friends and neighbors about you.

Source: https://flipmyfunnel.com/

Discover new use cases and “personas” for your product

Finally, customer support can discover new use cases or “personas” for your marketing department to use in their marketing materials. Since customer support is on the front line of a business, they are the ones who see how your product get used in your customers’ day-to-day.

Make Your Customer Support A Foundational Part of Your Marketing Efforts

I hope I have convinced you that customer support and marketing are joined at the hip – and that they are (or should be) a foundational part of your marketing effort.

As Forbes recently said, customer service is the new marketing.

As an innovative company in an industry that still has a long way to go before reaching the “early majority” phase, constant collaboration and joint product development with your customers is a must.

Keeping them happy and channeling their complaints, errors and opinions into a continuous feedback loop between support and marketing can put you at the top of the game.

And if you’re having a bad day with negative complaints hitting you on all sides after you’ve introduced a new product to the marketing, do as marketer Jay Baer says: “Hug Your Haters.”

Has been involved with high-tech sales and marketing for 22 years and is a prolific blogger. He’s written about IoT, digital transformation, agile development, and international marketing. He lives in Austin, Texas, the “Silicon Hills” and is passionate about startups and how to help companies achieve fast growth.

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Why Service Is The New Marketing for IoT Manufacturers

Today more than at any other time in modern history, service is actually really really important. It used to be that companies would claim that “service is our middle name.” But the reality was that their service was always lacking.

But today there’s nowhere to hide. There’s nowhere for a shoddy product, bad experience on the customer service line, or a pushy sales person to hide.

Why?  The answer is obvious: everything is instantly sharable on social media. All the time.

To take a non-business related example, how often now are we witness to viral videos on Facebook and Twitter of racist rants and police brutality? The increase in frequency is never-ending.

The same is true for bad customer service and poor quality products.

This is especially true for the consumer IoT industry, which has a whole set of issues all to its own.

 

The IoT Ecosystem Challenge

Let’s attack this issue right away. IoT products for consumers, such as home automation, wearables, trackers, sleep tech, pet tech, and all sorts of other techs, have opened a Pandora’s box of previously non-existent problems.

From connectivity problems like learning your device requirements and edge router, to connectivity to other devices, or incompatibility with your mobile platform of choice, consumers have a steep learning curve.  Consumer devices are pretty friendly, as their designers put a lot effort into making them not only functional, but built for a great user experience.  That said, this is all new to most users.

The IoT manufacturers that win at this game are the ones who have implemented a well thought-out process for holding customers by the hand so that connecting, using and trouble-shooting these connected devices are a breeze.

Takeaway: make a complicated technology product easy to use by implementing friendly and timely support processes to help customers learn to use and connect their new IoT devices.

Something to Share on Social Media

Social media has changed everything related to marketing and customer service. If your customers are not saying great stuff about your company, it’s really your word against theirs. And in social everything comes to light.

The best types of social sharing is 3rd party sharing. In other words, social proof. And when you deliver a fantastic customer experience, whether through your great product design, UI or customer support and service, customers will rave about you on social media.

But I’m not just talking about great service. I’m talking about really great service. People don’t share “good” stuff on social media. That’s boring. People share surprising incidents that amaze them.

Surprise your customers through some sort of “delight” mechanism. How can you delight your customers by going the extra mile and putting them off balance a little bit, albeit in a positive way?

Takeaway: deliver outstanding customers service, and include a type of “delight” component that surprises and amazes your customers. They’ll absolutely want to share that on social media.

Educate Your Customers About Everything They Can Do With Your Product

You don’t know how frustrating it is when I buy a new phone, and I realize I’m only using about 3% of its functionality. It took one of my nephews to show me a few cool tricks I could do with my phone, and that was just scratching the surface.

So many consumer IoT products can do so many amazing things, but most customers don’t take full advantage of them because they don’t know about them. And when they don’t take advantage of everything, there’s no opportunity for them to really fall in love with your product so they can eventually become repeat customers.

Launch tutorial videos or webinars so you can teach your customers how to get the most out of their smart security camera or smart lamp. Show them cool new things they can do.  If your product receives firmware updates with new functionality, make sure to accompany the firmware updates with video tutorial updates as well.  Share all this with your customer support team as well, so they can built it into their knowledge base and they’re aware and prepared to share it with your customers.  Do the same with your Customer Success Managers.

Takeaway: use content to educate your customers so they can use as much of the functionality of your products as possible.

Cross-selling and Upselling

With consumer IoT devices chances are you won’t make your money from the first sale. You make your money from service subscriptions, cross-selling and upselling.

When your customers buy your tracking device, smart camera, smart lock or pet fitness device, that’s just the first step in the funnel. This is an opportunity for you to shine in your service so you can sell them the next thing in your funnel – usually something that is a bit more expensive, or something that they will pay monthly for.  Hint: Leverage your customer support team, the people that have the most direct contact with your users, to recommend upgrades and additional solutions to your customers.

Takeway: deliver excellent service so you can sell more products and drive profitability. Your first product, the one that’s getting all the attention, may just be the loss leader for your whole product offering.

Turning Customers Into Advocates and Promoters

Another effect of social and digital media is the disintermediation of the sales person. You don’t go to a stereo store anymore these days, and you avoid the pushy sales guy barely surviving on those stereo commissions.

 

But somebody has replaced the sales person: the brand ambassador. Whether you establish a deliberate brand ambassador program (like Hennessey) or it happens naturally, you need to get to a point where your customers are so sold on your company, so dedicated to your brand, that they will gladly spread the word for you as free sales people.

Takeaway: start a brand ambassador program, or find a way to delight your customers into promoting your brand.

Conclusion

Bottom line: today, if you want your IoT company to become a household name, you need to be a ninja at support and customer service.

  1. Help your customers figure out the ecosystem challenges
  2. Deliver a surprising “delight” experience so they can share about your brand on social media
  3. Educate your customers so they can fall in love with everything they can do with your product
  4. Set up a cross-selling and upselling funnel driven by awesome service
  5. Turn your customers into brand ambassadors.

It used to be, back in the day, that good marketing could make up for a bad product. Not today. Today, your product and service is the marketing. It’s especially true for consumer IoT products.

Happy customer servicing!

Has been involved with high-tech sales and marketing for 22 years and is a prolific blogger. He’s written about IoT, digital transformation, agile development, and international marketing. He lives in Austin, Texas, the “Silicon Hills” and is passionate about startups and how to help companies achieve fast growth.