An Interview with Sam Decker: Getting Customer Centric
In December 2009, I had the honor of keynoting Social Media Congress in Amsterdam. It’s such a small world when you travel all the way to Holland to meet people/companies from the United States. As I was finishing my session, I met Joel Kramer, sales director at Bazaarvoice. Coincidentally, I had used a Bazaarvoice case study and the results in my presentation.
Joel and I chatted that day and after a few emails back and forth, I ended up speaking with his CEO, Brett Hurt and then later the CMO of the company, Sam Decker. I guess after several conversations you could say I found the company and the people behind the scenes to be very interesting. I want to disclose that I have no affiliation with Bazaarvoice, which is a company that captures, displays, shares and analyzes customer conversations online through a combination of technology and personalized services to help brands build communities.
I thought it would be great to interview Sam to help PR professionals learn about the customer centric approach to drive measurable business goals for their own brands. A little about Sam first: he is a recognized expert in eCommerce, word of mouth marketing, and direct marketing and a frequent speaker at marketing and eCommerce events. Sam is the author of an award-winning marketing blog (www.deckermarketing.com), and brings more than 15 years of marketing and online retailing experience to Bazaarvoice. As Chief Marketing Officer, Sam is responsible for leading Bazaarvoice’s corporate marketing and PR. Before joining Bazaarvoice, Sam spent seven years of leadership at Dell, Inc. in marketing, eBusiness, CRM, and customer-centricity. From 1999-2003, he led Dell’s consumer web site, building Dell.com into the largest consumer eCommerce site at $3.5B in annual sales.
Here is the Q&A with Sam:
Please share with us your thoughts about the customer centric approach and why is this so important today?
Today’s consumers not only have more choices for virtually every decision they make; they also have more information at their fingertips. For several years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has found that a “person like me” – not a brand or marketer, or even a critic – is the most trusted source for information about a company and products. Marketers’ voices don’t resonate as well as other people like yourself. The Internet also makes it easier for consumers to collaborate with one another to get opinions – Facebook and Twitter enable direct and broad communication with people like you.
So if a company isn’t customer-centric, the community can – and will – expose its shortcomings quickly. All the marketing in the world can’t cover up or change how brands truly interact with customers – it can’t cover up who you really are. Our tagline is “Be the Conversation,” which means that, in short, the truest “marketing” is to be yourself, and the conversation will follow. Authenticity amplifies.
What has to happen within an organization in order for it to embrace a customer centric approach?
When the customer voice permeates the entire business, we call this “customer oxygen.” Sometimes it begins when a company adds customer reviews to its site. After everyone gets over the fear of negative reviews, they start to see how consumers actually interact with their products – what they like and don’t like. The product developers see how they can create or improve products that customers will buy and enjoy. The company starts seeing unexpected results, such as lower return rates and feedback on, for example, products that get scratched during shipping, or customers point out that the shade of blue online doesn’t quite represent the actual shade of blue in the item received. In examples like this, we’ve seen whole processes change, marketing content get updated, or manufacturers get called out for an inconsistent color lot.
To really make an impact, management has to support both hearing the customer voice and taking action. There are many companies that bring reviews into departmental meetings, or form interdepartmental committees that focus solely on enhancing the business around customer input. The company must be committed – in thought and in action – to listening and reacting to customer input.
I noticed that Bazaarvoice does a lot of work with ratings and product reviews (getting customers to participate interactively on a brand’s website). What are the benefits of using these interactive tools and how does this strategy help the brand?
Brands that embrace customer participation are seen as more authentic and more trusted. Making it easy for consumers to write reviews gives brands and their customers a clear picture of what’s good, bad, or missing from a product.
That direct input helps brands make product improvements that are most likely to translate to stronger-selling products, since consumers have requested them.
What do you tell a company that is reluctant to use product reviews?
Consumers are already talking about your brand – both positively and negatively. They’re talking on Facebook, Twitter, and over their back fences. You want to be part of these conversations – hear what’s most important, show them you’re listening and responding, and get a real leg up on your competition. When you invite your customers to converse with you on your site, you can respond to them, get product-specific feedback that can help you continuously improve, and make your customers innately trust your brand more, simply by allowing them to share their opinions publicly on your site.
How does a company handle negative product reviews?
When Bazaarvoice started out, this was the most comment objection we heard – brands were afraid of negative reviews. In fact, negative reviews can give you some of the best, game-changing information that can positively influence your business.
We insist that our clients be transparent with reviews – they must publish negative reviews, as long as they are on-topic and appropriate (i.e., not profane, etc.). If companies take action due to negative reviews, they can insert feedback directly amongst the reviews saying, “We heard you; we improved this product.” Also, a negative review to one person may not necessarily be a negative review to someone else – if one person complains about battery life for a camera, for example, but a shopper is more concerned about photo quality, it just adds to the information on the page.
Finally, consumers are smart. If they only see positive reviews on a site, they’ll start to suspect that the reviews are insincere or faked – which totally crushes any trust that reviews can build. No product is perfect for every user in every situation; negative reviews bring authenticity to a site.
How does user-generated content make an impact on conversations and ecommerce metrics?
Customer reviews can have a huge impact on an organization. On the website, reviews increase the amount of content about a product, which increases natural search results, time on site, and – most importantly – sales conversion. By setting realistic expectations, reviews also tend to decrease product return rates and generally increase customer satisfaction. Consumers inherently feel more invested in a brand because they actually had a role in creating content for the site. We’ve also seen reviews help increase conversion and redemption for all types of advertising, from coupons to email offers.
Are you using the customer centric approach and how has this helped you to drive measurable results. What are you thoughts on this approach and/or concerns to getting started?