Marketing Mistakes: Measuring Customer ‘So What’













Does your marketing team measure what the customer values most about your product or service?

A post on the HBR blog today Call length is the worst way to measure customer service reveals that firms can obsess about the wrong metrics. Whilst they might give managers a sense of control they often have nothing to do with creating and delivering customer value.

The HBR post explains that many call centers focus on increasing the number of calls their operatives can handle by decreasing the time they talk with individual customers whereas the customer, spookily enough, wants helpfulness which might take the call operative to provide.

So what we have here is the commercial conundrum of providing customer value versus value appropriation for the firm. An optimum needs to be found. Get it wrong and either way your business suffers. Too much customer care and it costs you revenue too little customer care and it still costs you revenue because customers stop using the service.

Is there a formula for success? Probably not. There will be data that allows the firm to try out different approaches (much like a business game – if I increase my ad spend whats the impact on sales and profit). This will refine the overall approach for sure.

The point of the article however is use a metric to measure what you want to measure and don’t use a metric as a proxy for something else. Call length is call length and helpful for profitability measurement use an attitudinal measure to track the quality of your service experience.

Content Marketing: Solving your problems or making you think? 

Abraham Maslow said that if you only have a hammer you see every problem as a nail. He was getting at the instrumental way some folks can get locked into a single way of problem solving. 

Something I’ve noticed about marketing management content on the web in general and marketing blogs and LinkedIn posts in particular is that this content falls into two camps. 

Approach 1 – prescriptions 

Instant problem solving information typically expressed like 3 ways to do this or that, or a the best method to win more business, keep customers happy etc. The aim being to share best practice.

Approach 2 – provocations 

Thought provoking discussions that raise critical issues and perspectives such as the complexity of value or the challenge of making sense of a changing world. The aim being to challenge taken for granted assumptions. 

Approach 2 content doesn’t actually provide a specific solution to a specific marketing management problem rather it invites the reader to think more deeply about the complexities of marketing practice and how sales and marketing practioners make sense of their world and their work. 

One criticism of approach 2 is that it can seem like ‘intellectual claptrap’. Often the content looks at what we actually mean by commonly used marketing terms such as value or relationship marketing. In academia we call this ‘deconstruction’ of meaning. This where commonly used terms are shown to be difficult to define and much more ambiguous than you might think at first glance.

Take for example terms like marketing, strategy or leadership. It’s easy to assume there is common agreement on what these terms refer to but just scratch the surface and you can see they can mean very different things to different people. It’s hardly surprising then why miscommunication and friction can be caused in companies when people have very different views about core management ideas.

Sometimes approach 2 content offers a critical take on everyday marketing practice by challenging the assumptions on which it is based such as the hot topic of ‘account based marketing’. This marketing buzzword is high profile at the moment and touted as a new way of doing B2B marketing. The question becomes what is the basis for claiming ABM is new and different. 

So is approach 2 content really intellectual claptrap? a waste of time? a waste of effort? 

Marketing content approach 2 is targetted at what is called the ‘thoughtful practioner’ rather than the action only practioner. This is someone that Donald Schon describes as the Reflective Practioner, somebody who thinks on and in their practice. These are very different people to those who just act to a formulaic script without ever asking if the formula or the script needs to change, or who get stuck in sorting out symptoms rather than causes. 

Audiences who favour approach 1 are people who react best to an immediate answer and not, as they see it, wasting time examining these underlying causes. They rationalise their approach as ‘getting things done’.

For content marketing approach 1 audiences problems are ‘tame’ – a clear problem needing a straightforward solution. On the other hand thoughtful practioners see problems as ‘wicked’ – where problems complex and multi-faceted that need subtle and systemic solutions. See the writing of Rittel and Webber.

What is in play here is the relationship between theory and practice. Often the cry goes up that something is too ‘theoretical’. Now this is interesting because it reveals an underlying assumption that theory are separate things when in reality they are deeply connected. As Kurt Lewin observed ‘there is nothing so practical as a good theory’ 

Part of this practice or theory problem is down to what we mean by theory. Content marketing approach 2 alert!

Marketing management theories are fundamentally an informed explanation of a management phenomenon that occurs in the real world. They are a more robust explanation of something than a mere opinion. 

These theories can become prescriptions for action (normative theory) and it is this type of theory that surfaces in management writing because it is directed at problem solving. 3 ways to write compelling blog copy is actually a theory even though it comes across as practical! 

Content marketing approach 2 is typically what is called ‘explanatory theory’. A framework or model that helps us reflect and make sense of something rather than a recommendation of a solution. 

Think of any elite sportsperson. Would anyone suggest that they don’t reflect on their performance? They don’t just train to improveme technique they also think about how to improve their frame of mind and their overall approach to training and their discipline. It’s a meta approach. 

There is ample evidence on the executive management courses I run with my colleague and co-author Simon Kelly that experienced business people want to know more about how to problem solve by simply learning a few management problem analysis tools. They really want to challenge assumptions and beliefs.

Often our tutorials on achieving competitive advantage and creating customer value resolve out into discussions on lack of internal alignment, poor communication and lack of company agility and all of the ambiguous invisible stuff that goes on between people and how they communicate.

These issues are not the stuff of the ‘3 ways to improve’ variety of approach 1 they are to do with how people make sense of their worlds, what they actually mean and how to change what they do. 

People who think the approach 2 way don’t have fixed egos. They are open minded and have a deep sense of curiosity. They realise that management problems can’t easily be resolved with set template or process map or a 2*2 management matrix. That’s because their design and interpretation require assumptions or a theory of what matters.

Of course a balance needs to be struck. As commercial people we want applied knowledge and effective results and this means we can rarely if ever indulge in introspective consideration of business issues in the same way that medieval scholars debated How many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Doing the managerial equivalent of this metaphysical navel gazing might justly be criticised as an example of intellectual claptrap. 

If you only have a hammer however you run the risk of being fixed in your thinking. If you are fixed you will probably feel you are on an even keel or and not acknowledge you might be complacent. If you avoid complex and challenging ideas that don’t dump an obvious solution in your lap then you risk inhibiting the agility and competitiveness of your business. Being anti-intellectual in management might save you time by cutting to the chase and it might also lock you inside a simplistic psychic prison to which your competitors have the key. 

Train ticket fear destroys customer value

Tell me, what sort of organisation would advertise the fact that using their service creates fear in their customers, except perhaps roller coaster owners!

This is what British rail franchise company East Midlands Trains is doing at the moment. The intent of the advert is to address the serious problem of customers (that’s passengers to you and me) buying the wrong ticket. Up to One fifth of rail customers buy the wrong ticket as this BBC news report reveals.

One of the most worrying consequences for passengers is that if you ‘under-buy’, in other words make a purchase mistake you get a fine or as its euphemistically called a penalty fare. This means you are treated as if you are a fare dodger who has the wilful intent of avoiding payment. In other words the company regards you as a criminal. As harsh as this seems considerable effort is made by rail companies to make passengers aware that they need to buy the correct ticket in advance of travel.

All the same because of the complexity of their own ticketing arrangements passenger ticket fear is explicitly recognised by East Midlands Trains as fear of financial punishment and fear of being cast as a law breaker! Whilst the issue of rail fare evasion is serious I don’t think making fun of passenger fear in this way is appropriate.

I’d like to discuss two things in relation to rail passengers buying the wrong tickets from machines. Firstly the use of ‘fear’ in marketing communications and secondly the issue of value destruction. The latter is something we cover in our book Value-ology

Fear in marketing 

There’s an old adage in sales and marketing that ‘fear sells’. Disturb the customer about an inadequacy or a lack such as lack of beauty or bring up an anxiety such as fear of leaving loved one’s with huge funeral bills when you pass on.  Fear is marketing 101. BUT it seems to me that the  East Midlands Trains marketing team that came up with idea of, and authorised the use of ‘fear’ in the advert above have a mistaken understanding of the use of fear in marketing communications. Either that or they think it’s funny that their passengers are fearful. Why would you brag about the fact that your ticketing system creates customer fear rather than addresses a customer fear?! It looks like chopped logic to me. The marketing team are sort of in the right ball park but misses the point of how to use the idea of fear in advertising.

I do realise that the advert refers to an explanatory brochure that seeks to demystify ticket types but there is a difference in recognising customer feedback about their fears of buying a wrong ticket and then playing straight back at them in this way. I would have thought something more like:

Take the stress out of buying your ticket.

Buying the wrong ticket can result in penalty fare

You might worry if you have bought the right ticket for your journey

Our simple ticket guide will help you choose the right ticket for you

Value destruction

The potential for value destruction by dysfunctional organisational or individual activities has ben researched by marketing academics in recent times. See:

Ple,L. Caceres, R.C. (2010) Not always co-creation: Introducing interactional co-destruction of value in service-dominant logic. Journal of Services Marketing, 24/6 430-437.and

Echeverri P., & Skalen P. (2011). Co-creation and co-destruction: A practice–theory based study of interactive value formation. Marketing Theory, 11(3), 351–373.

Value can be destroyed by the supplier or the customer through a variety of means such as  impoliteness, aggression, lack of attention, humiliation and so on. .I realise that fare dodging needs a deterrent and the official identity of revenue protection officers serves a powerful purpose in that regard. The RPO’s are invariably  very polite and only assertive when they have to be. That said, the sense of potential public humiliation and edginess I have witnessed as a commuter as the Revenue Inspectors board a train (dressed in somewhat paramilitary body vests) is palpable. Even when the inspectors ‘let the wrong ticketed passenger off’ with a warning or just payment of a full fare rather than imposing a fine it seems to me that customer value is being destroyed. Fellow passengers have witnessed the interaction and so being ‘shamed’ in public is not ideal.One thing that seems to be overlooked is that the inspector-passenger interaction takes place in a public service-scape (see Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees. Mary Jo Bitner 1992 Journal of Marketing). This means that all passengers within sight and earshot are also having their customer value (pleasant and relaxing journey) destroyed.

Of course in the world of behavioural economics you get people to change their behaviour with rewards and punishments. Yes dear customer we are cast as simply ‘dogs to be trained.Of course the whole purpose of revenue protection is to ensure cheaper prices (economic value) for us all. Seems sensible, but as academics Brock and Colgate point out firms rarely deliver just one sort of value. See Customer Value Creation: A Practical Framework J. Brock Smith and Mark Colgate Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter, 2007), pp. 7-23.

We use a  customer value model called the Value Onion in our new book Value-ology to show the interrelated types of value created by firms:

Surely the best solution to the revenue and fear problem is to have and indisputably simple and clear ticketing system rather than a Byzantine system that creates fear in customers and has the persistent latent potent to destroy experiential customer value?

Co-create customer value with social interaction 

One of the central ideas we cover in our marketing and sales book Value-ology is the art of value proposing as a central aspect of consultative selling in key account management and professional sales.

Value proposing is what sales and marketing people do when they are crafting and pitching a value proposition in face to face customer situations. A value proposition is a thing whereas value proposing is a behaviour.

A fascinating article in the HBR blog Emotional Intelligence has 12 elements handshakes our research in Value-ology that  social intelligence is an essential competence of experienced and credible b2b sales and key account management executives.

In our book we call the social domain the ‘missing middle’ of sales and marketing management understanding. Something so obvious (people deal with people) that it hardly warrants much examination.

We have found that careful attention to the social contexts of supplier – customer interaction can be difference between success and failure. In Value-ology we describe four social contexts that matter in business:

Approaching, Incorporating, Unfolding and Relating. Each of these demands a different and particular way of behaving and speaking. If a sales and marketing executive reads these wrong it can directly result in the loss of business.

Co-creating customer value requires dialogue. The sharing of thoughts and ideas to improve understanding. Do this in a pro-social way with commercial realism and your bottom line will increase.

Is your marketing built on customer value insight? 

Okay! So sou might know what your customer’s need but do you know what they value?

Watch this YouTube introduction to see what I’m talking about Value-ology

Meeting a need is solving a problem delivering value is being relevant.

Academics Vargo and Lusch describe value as idiosyncratic, subjective and  meaning laden. This means that value is a moving target that is only ever determined by the customer. A supplier can never tell a customer what value is.

Suppliers can only ever propose value. That’s why of all the marketing tasks a CMO has to do the creation of a value proposition can be the difference between success and failure. Your offer has to address some matter at hand in the world of the customer.

Your products and services will of course be designed to solve a problem that is generally understood. Zoning in on value means improving your customisation.

Value-ology is packed full of thought provoking ideas and practical tools that can transform your marketing and improve your ROI

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