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Look Into Your Customer’s Eyes

REVIEW: FLIP THE FUNNEL: Joseph Jaffe (John Wiley & Sons)

I’ve read Joseph Jaffe’s book across multiple air journeys, nationally and internationally. I agreed with the principles described and saw parallels with excellent services businesses over the past few years. However, the implications didn’t quite strike me in the gut until I realised – while writing this on board an aircraft – that the journeys I had taken with this book had also been with just one airline.

My loyalty to this airline is not because of the mileage card I hold, although their mileage programme is certainly among the best in the world. It is not because they were the cheapest or the most on-time, though they compete favourably with other comparable airlines.

My loyalty to them is because of what they did during the Mumbai floods in July 2005. Those who remember the chaos, through personal experience or through media, wouldn’t blame airline staff for abandoning their counters, and leaving the airport to try and reach home as early as they could. Certainly most of them must have felt helpless in the face of increasingly desperate passengers who couldn’t expect to depart any time soon. Jet Airways stood out as being the only one in Mumbai’s Terminal 1-B whose team felt responsible enough to stay back at the airport to be available to the passengers. Not only did they ensure that the passengers stuck in the terminal were safe, but that all waiting passengers got three meals a day! Whether or not they were flying with Jet Airways.

Now, in telling you about incident, I have closed the loop and given you a living example of the “flipped funnel” that Jaffe describes in the book.

The normal marketing funnel is described by the process Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action (or “AIDA”) which underlies the spray-and-pray approach of traditional marketing. The result of AIDA is that a lot of customers become aware of a business, brand or product. Some are interested enough to seek out the product. However the number who move on to the next stage of actually expressing desire to buy is lower, and those who actually buy are fewer still, as amply demonstrated by carts being abandoned before actually checking out.

Jaffe points out that the AIDA principle was created in times of abundant growth in the US, but is a suicidal funnel to fall into when resources are scarce. It is lopsided, with more money being spent on customers who will not buy. It is linear and does not capture the complexity of buying behaviour. It is open and incomplete because it only handles potential customers up to the point where they become actual customers, but does nothing with them thereafter. AIDA also inherently assumes customer churn, hence the opening focus on creating awareness among potentially new customers.

The alternative principles Jaffe describes are simple: getting more customers to buy from us and more often (repeat purchases), to spend increasing amounts with us (loyalty), and finally, to recommend us to their friends and associates (referrals). However, to do this requires dramatically different thinking from AIDA spray-and-pray. Jaffe’s alternative model – ADIA (Acknowledgment, Dialogue, Incentivisation and Activation) – focuses on customers more than prospects.

Acknowledging customers itself is such a major stumbling block for so many companies, such as the retailer whose front-line staff would prefer to fold and put away garments than meeting the eyes of the customer who has walked into the store. In some cases it may be about using technology effectively rather than as a barrier. When the taxi company can recognise the number you are calling from and close your order in less than 120 seconds, why does the telephone company that issued that number make you jump through burning hoops for 5-10 minutes before they will allow you to request a duplicate bill?

That acknowledgement should lead to an on-going dialogue, before, through and well after the purchase is done. This would be supported by constant incentives for the customer to buy more from you. It is not about having a loyalty programme, as Jaffe quotes studies that demonstrate that loyalty programmes alone don’t produce loyalty; in fact there are enough businesses that do not run loyalty schemes but have what can only be called fan followings.

The final link in that funnel is building that community of evangelist enthusiasts who will carry your brand message farther and far more effectively than any traditional form of marketing could. Religious organisations have known this for thousands of years – it is high time that businesses and other organisations recognised the power of the community as well.

Jaffe acknowledges that Seth Godin actually came up with the term “flipping the funnel” over 3 years ago, when he released the e-book of that name (available on sethgodin.typepad.com) primarily about using social media effectively. Jaffe, to his credit, has applied the principles more fully across the marketing and customer service process.

Jaffe recently sold his business, crayon, but has kept his title “Chief Interruptor” at the acquiring company. If you want to make your marketing really pay, you’ll find it worthwhile letting “Flip the Funnel” interrupt your normal marketing thought-process.

(This review was written for Businessworld.)

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Developing Customer Loyalty

A few years ago when I was called upon to make a presentation about customer loyalty, I ran into this brick wall of, “Do loyalty programs work or don’t they?”

The way around the wall was to not look for a black or white answer. Some programs work and some don’t. The difference, I found, was in the degree of impact on core operations (e.g. product selection, displays, pricing etc.) – i.e. how these were fine-tuned from the feedback and other information collection from the loyalty program.

What was certainly clear is that we can clearly differentiate between loyalty that is “bought” (discounts, freebies, loyalty points etc.) vs. loyalty that is “earned” (i.e. you attend carefully to what the customer is saying she wants, and you make sure that you go all out to provide that).

The hotel and airline industry, where well-structured loyalty programs have their roots, depended heavily on buying loyalty. Interestingly, these are now proving to be long-term liabilities, which initially led airlines to put an expiration date and is now leading them to de-value the mileage points (just like a country would devalue its currency!) – thus customers would need more points to make the same trip.

On the other hand, those retailers, hotels or airlines that have learned from their loyal / club / elite customers, have made sure that their offer is constantly value-added, and in some cases constantly differentiated.

In most markets, the top criteria for a consumer to select a store are operational (location of the store, availability of product, range of merchandise, pricing, etc. etc.), and often there is a huge gap between what the consumer expects and what the retailer serves up. In that context, a loyalty program is like applying band-aid to a fracture!

Does this all mean that all “bought loyalty” is useless and that loyalty programs don’t work? Not at all! Retailers can certainly use loyalty schemes to identify high value customers and cultivate them through ongoing exchange of information, and also reward customers for their purchase behaviour. But building and retaining relationships with customers and increasing the share of customer spending in-store is something that can only be delivered by better operations.

We need to reconsider the motivation to have a loyalty program. “Loyalty” schemes’ primary benefit is not loyalty, but a basis of building relationships with individual customers in gathering “Purchase Trend and Product Information” and in achieving better focus and targeting. These need to be used to improve operational effectiveness which produce loyalty – product focus and a service customization opportunity.