Check The Memo: Mobile Puts Customers First

by , May 23, 2012, 10:08 AM
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For as long as I can recall, marketers have been talking about organizing around the customer.

During the heyday of the early Net, IBM organized into Industry Solution Units (ISUs in IBM-speak), each of which focused on a particular industry such as banking, retail or entertainment. For a big company selling big hardware and storage to big companies, it made a lot of sense.

It was practical at the time to at least organize around markets -- the thinking being that expertise in any given market could be aggregated for a company to provide greater and more relevant solutions for each set of customers in that market. In many ways, that was the ultimate B2B play.

But for B2C, the existence of mobile creates the time and opportunity to come closer to organizing around individuals, as many agencies and leading brands have preached for years. The market has the words -- such as micro-targeting, location-based and hyperlocal -- although they are more easily said than done.

Organizing around and serving customers has great potential with mobile, although it likely will not be technology hurdles that get in the way of ultimate success. Often, it will be internal company structure or even culture.

While a technology solution may be introduced at one end of a company, the customer may be at the other end, which becomes even more pronounced with mobile.

When the rewards-rich Shopkick app was introduced some time ago, the idea was that a shopper would walk into a store such as Macy’s or Best Buy, a signal would be silently sent to the person’s phone as they entered the store and they would receive rewards (called kicks) for being there with bonus points for scanning the codes of particular products.

In the beginning, the process was rocky. But it was not so much about the technology as about the trickle-down knowledge at the employee level. In the early days, we were looking for certain products to scan, as specified by the app. I’d ask the nearest Best Buy employee about where the products for Shopkick scanning were and would get such responses as “what’s Shopkick?”

But over time, these types of comments from Best Buy employees evolved. They went from “Let me get you the person who knows Shopkick” to “yes, I’m familiar with Shopkick -- what are you trying to do?”

The next phase was the checkout process. Best Buy has its own rewards program and Shopkick has its own kicks rewards programs.

Again, an evolution at checkout. At my first attempt to use Shopkick to receive points at checkout, it took two employees and the manager on duty to figure out how to find it in Best Buy’s POS system. In the next phase, an employee and one manager found it. Most recently, the checkout cashier found it on her own, as well as the Best Buy rewards program, applying credit to both.

The lesson here is that the Shopkick technology worked -- it was all the people-involved processes along the way that needed to be modified.

And therein lies one of the key challenges in moving to organizing around the customer, especially the mobile power user we wrote about last week.

The best mobile technology may be at one end of the organization and the totally willing customer is at the other end. The problem is everything in between.

These issues can range from effectively introducing new ways of doing things with mobile customers, such as in the case of Shopkick, to convincing specific profit centers or franchisees that they should adopt and deploy what corporate is introducing.

So which retailers win in this evolution of everything in the middle? “The most scared will succeed and those who are not will fail,” says Jeff Sellinger, co-founder and chief product officer of Shopkick.

In the case of Shopkick, mobile consumers also were pushing back into the Best Buys, forcing them to learn about the features of the app.

Another typical roadblock to customer centricity within an organization is the silo effect, with division or group A focused on its mission and success metrics working next to group B, with its own set of the same. If group A and B are aligned, then there for sure is a group C or D.

These also add to the obstacle course between the mobile innovators and the customers, both of whom get it.

At least watching the evolution of the retail process around products like Shopkick shows that with time and effort, the gap can be tightened.

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