my turn


Just Get Me Good Customer Service

What a tough world for a CEO, or a CMO, CIO or anyone with a "C." After all, as Mark Hurd, president of Oracle, Benjamin Karsch, CMO of Cigna, and just about every panelist at Argyle Executive Forum's CMO Leadership event on Thursday put it, you have to be able to work with both cerebral hemispheres at the same time. Generally the C-Suite lives in a world of paradoxes, which was made clear as spring water by Hurd (in so many words.) 

He pointed out, for example, that when you take a CEO job, the first thing you have to do is articulate big, long- term goals. The second is you have to start delivering in the short term. And nowadays, you have to show the data to prove it. Oh, and you have to be a leader and a data scientist. It helps if you are also a brain surgeon and a modern dancer. Karsch presented a whole program about that very thing, starting with with a fun interactive to see who in the audience was left- or right-brained. I was neither. Which is why I'm not a brain surgeon. 



Hurd said that if you happen to end up a CEO, you had damned well better have good ideas that make your predecessor look like a wet spaniel. Be careful what you wish for: he said (in so many words) that the CEO post is a job you may not want. He sang the Billie Holiday song. He didn't literally sing it, but that was the subtext and it's especially true now when every digital firm wants a piece of your action: "When you have money, you have lots of friends, hangin' ’round your door. But when the money's gone, and all your spending ends, they won't be ’round any more." 

Panelists and presenters also made it clear that consumers are way beyond marketers and CEOs in terms of what the former wants and expects and what the latter is doing. If the guy running Oracle, albeit a B-to-B company, says marketing apps at most companies are 20 years old on average, they’re probably 20 years old. So, you know, 20 years ago? That was 1994. An app from 1994 would be a notch above Lotus 1-2-3. 

Presenters made a point about mobile -- pulling out their smartphones, that little frenemy of marketers everywhere, the thing that obviates whatever is left of the idea that you have the slightest control over what your prospective consumers are doing, what they say about you and even what they think about you. The device that keeps them way ahead of your marketing pitch of woo. And while you are standing there with a Dixie cup, it’s the device keeping the data fire hydrant on full blast.  

Hurd and everyone who presented also pointed out that however you do it, customer service is king. Who gets it? Ultimate paradox: it ain't your cell provider. Hurd held up his cell phone with something like disgust. His service, he said, is the very worst -- just horrible -- at delivering customer service, not only in a timely manner, but at all. Hey, we know this. Maybe this says more about my digital green-card status than anything else, but I had no idea that my phone has hot spot capability. Okay, I'm a gadget idiot and was the last person in the U.S. to use a feature phone, but when I called my provider they also didn't know whether my phone has a hot spot. “Go to a store.” Biggest surprise? That I wasn't surprised.  

Marty Siewert, chief revenue officer at mobile marketing firm Zoove, pointed out that there are about 300 million smartphones out there, or maybe it was people with smartphones. "The point is, how to capture them in the moment, and then understanding how it impacts our business. It's optimizing the experience, not making an experience smaller." 

What's a great experience? Hurd has been telling this story for months: trip to Australia. He forgot his shirts. He phones his wife to tell her to bring those shirts when they rendezvous in Oz. He strolls into his hotel room (presumably before she even leaves Stateside), and he finds a stack of new, perfectly folded shirts on his bed. Wow. She had used her cell phone to find shirts that fit him, priced them, ordered them, and got a store in Australia, which didn't even sell those shirts, to deliver them to his hotel room. That's service.

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