Over the weekend I somehow discovered that the Starwood Preferred Guest program was now offering a free iPhone app. In less than five minutes I had Googled it for a review, downloaded the app, input my membership number, and was checking out this cool new marketing service from one of my favorite hotel chains. My next thought: Why does my regular airline, Delta, not have an iPhone app yet? A great service by Starwood also made me feel worse about my airline, a company not even in the same business category! This reaction is an example of how great customer service and meaningful marketing in one category puts pressure on every business to improve.
My friend and colleague, Jonathan Richman, recently referenced this idea on his blog, Dose of Digital. It’s an idea that I share often with clients as we try to help them navigate the sea of digital choices and choose which services to offer and competitors to benchmark. This idea that customer-service expectations are rising across categories first sprung up in my mind when I read an Accenture survey from November 2008 of the customer-service attitudes of 4,000 respondents. It found that 31% said their customer-service expectations are higher than a year ago, and 52% said their expectations are up from five years ago. That’s an incredible increase in a short period of time, and it shows the path of the economy of today and tomorrow: As competition increases, service and value will increase, and people will expect these improvements to continue across every industry. The more we give them, the more they expect.
I believe this idea manifests itself in several divergent categories. My favorite example comes from Domino’s Pizza. In January 2008 it launched an online Pizza Tracker that shows an estimate of the step-by-step process of making the pizza you order online. Some laughed at the idea, but Domino’s felt it was necessary because a significant number of people call back to ask how their orders are progressing (before the 30 minutes, mind you). While others laughed, Domino’s racked up its millionth user of the tool before six months. Why? Well, I believe that people have become used to viewing the progress of their online orders from services such as UPS and FedEx. These two companies have great package tracking systems that millions of people have used. So the consumer’s expectation is that if these orders can be tracked, why can’t my pizza?
Other examples abound. A few years ago Facebook and Twitter started allowing mobile updates on information as trivial as when a friend updated his status or uploaded a photo, but banks and airlines were much slower to provide mobile updates for important information such as low balances and canceled flights. Another example is the increase in self-checkout lanes at retail stores. I firmly believe that they have rapidly expanded because customers are used to self-checkout online at e-commerce stores, and expect similar freedom in the offline world.
Our agency has seen this recently with our work on the Vicks brand. Just weeks before we launched our first online cold-and-flu tracking tool, Google came out with its own flu-trends tool, which grabbed the media spotlight before we did. So now CPG brands are competing with Google? That’s a pretty huge challenge!
But that’s reality. And on my other personal blog, The Challenge Dividend, you can read many, many stories of how Challenge Drives Improvement. (Warning: It’s not been updated in a few months as I’m focused on this blog and book.)
I believe that the many increasing examples of Marketing with Meaning will start setting a very high bar for businesses across every industry. Consumers will gravitate quickly toward those brands that provide value through marketing, and increasingly punish the brands that continue to interrupt and annoy them.