10 examples of smarter customer focus

(Please also see the 2010 version here)  and the start of the 2011 versions here (which goes by industry)

People often ask me about who I think is doing interesting things with web 2.0 and what social tools they should use.  And I gently try to tell them it’s the wrong question.  Focus on the “customer and the why” before the “what and the how.”  I recently created a list of companies doing “who and why” right for public presentation and thought you, dear reader, might be interested.

I used a mechanism Steve LaValle and I put together to test the list:  SHARE

– Simple (as in free of any jargon and written in customer language)

– Helpful (address the individual’s needs)

– Alternatives (provide options)

– That are Reliable (consistent across many channels)

– And Easy to use (some truths remain self evident…)

10 companies in no particular order. ..Please remember, this is an opinion piece, folks, just remember that I chose them and the context to display them.  I did not choose Apple and Nike.  These two well-chronicled companies are the embodiment of design-centered thinking but I wanted to see if some new examples could be helpful.

1. Maghound.com* redesigns the publishing model.  They offer hundreds of magazines, in any frequency, modify as you go, billed once monthly to your credit card in an easy to use interface via one bill.  I’m a customer, I’m an advocate. Business model innovation to enable better customer experiences is not cost-prohibitive.  It’s actually the most cost-effective way to deliver great customer interactions.

2. Rouxbe.com is technically a site for people who want to prepare great meals and love food.  However that is not its beauty.  They use video better than just about anyone else out there.  Their detours provide the right amount of education without overkill – such as selecting and cleaning morels (a type of mushroom).  It is a beautiful well-thought out approach to cooking that brings your laptop or iPhone into the kitchen.  Their blog on rewriting a recipe – actively moderated by the founders – engages the community to improve not just the recipe, but educating Rouxbe on where people are interested and what they are looking for.  Fabulously smart, elegant.

3. Amazon.com is perhaps the most crowded UI on the planet.  However, no one has done more to bring the power of the community into the grand bazaar of retailing.  The first to bring recommendations actively into site, they also brought “review helpfulness.”  They display not just the ratings but the distribution of them.  They tell you what people did with the information as well – did they purchase the item or view other items?  They try, pilot and rollout new ways to engage, often elevating the experience in ways that benefit us all.

4. QVC* is a global multi-channel retailer with more customer advocates than most any other company I have seen.   Actively integrating the best of retailing into their onsite experience, leveraging their television content, actively using video how-to, testing mobile and interactive TV (UK), providing communities and expert advice – they are fundamentally harnessing multi-channel better than anyone else.  QVC works hard to ensure their challenges do not ever affect their customers who shop with a frequency other retailers only dream about.  I love that they decided it was more important to test mobile than worry about doing it all at once.  Kudos to you for starting – since that is half the battle.

5. IBM.com* is completely transforming itself.  With a stated goal to “knit together the places (intranet, ibm.com, and the Internet) in which employees currently collaborate,” our company is evolving both on and off-the-site strategies to develop sharing approaches for employee information that clients and visitors can access.  This includes file sharing, presence, location awareness and authoring. The evolution is designed to include Alumni, Partners, Clients and Prospects to engage with employees.

6. Facebook allows brands to interact with people differently.  The concept of being a “fan” puts the brand in the context of the individual (using Diageo’s Baileys brand as my example), not the other way around.  The rapid rise of user-generated and user-controlled content means that your site is probably not on an individual’s list of places to go first.  And Facebook’s willingness to allow brands to become part of an individual, instead of the other way around is the right approach.

7. That being said, if you are going to aggregate content in a way viewers want to use it, you might as well echo Yahoo. The ability to place what I want on my page – whether that’s basketball highlights, new movie releases, shopping, news headlines and email in an “above the fold” view, means that they are still the number 1 site.  Fidelity is headed in this direction for financial news.  I applaud their efforts.

8. Progressive Insurance has long been a game changer, and seems to have recently said to themselves:  how do people really want to purchase auto insurance?  People start from something they really understand, namely the price. Progressive retooled their approach to start from there.  Designing from the customer perspective sometimes means reconfiguring your approach, not launching 62 new products.  Nicely done!

9. Harley Davidson* After embracing the 1% of the population that make the brand iconic, they have never looked back.  Harley’s website builds communities, echoing their brand in real life.  Their website is about – experience, click on the tab and open a new world.  Their trip planner leverages great partnering with Sunoco and Best Western.  The mashup allows the rider to design the ride.  Their communities allow people to do just about anything they may desire – from learning to ride, showing off your bike, finding a riding buddy, getting gear.  You don’t so much buy a bike, you join a community that lives to ride. Bravo, Harley, Bravo!

10. Google – can we really do this list without them?  No, I guess not.  No one has changed the paradigm of turning data to dollars better than Google.  Google, IMHO, doesn’t try to understand why a site is better, it simply tells you a list of places that seem to make sense based on the few parameters you give it.  It then goes further to offer you information that makes sense to you, where and when you want to put it. No one has done a better job, in the overall sense, allowing the customer to select what he wants to know, where and when he wants to know it.

Using big, dirty, noisy disparate data is a paradigm shift.  Creating smarter ways to leverage and monetize data  – such as Amazon and Google and QVC – means empowering semantic engines, ontologies and emerging analytical approaches.  This requires new means of processing so much different than today, such as cloud computing which can deliver the power needed to process it all.  The simple amount of data – let alone how a company turns it into insight and applies it to the business and the customers to use it – tells us we need to change, now.

IBM’s new partnership with Google to improve real-time value of personal health records – built on open standards and allowing devices to report monitoring and screening activity to a place of the patient’s choosing and then with whom the patient chooses – such as physicians, dieticians, caregivers – provides the power to improve health by harnessing data. (WOW, I really should rewrite that sentence, huh? It’s big and noisy itself) However all of this data is likely to be very different from each other – blood pressure might not look the same as weight or caloric intake. Reconciling these is powerful for the individual – and those who act on his behalf.

(Please also see the 2010 version here)  and the start of the 2011 versions here (which goes by industry)


Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz

Items marked with * means that IBM has had some interaction with the company, and maybe with the project.  However, these were ones I had direct knowledge around our involvement.



5 thoughts on “10 examples of smarter customer focus

    1. I understand – Google is certainly one of the foremost leaders in all things web…but it’s exactly for that reason that we must hold them to the highest standard…thanks for dropping by, reading and most of all, leaving me a comment -c-

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