What Smart Marketers Will Focus On In 2007

You didn’t think I was joking when I suggested that the Crankys were a new emerging consumer segment, did you? I wasn’t.

There are millions of relatively well-to-do, highly-educated Boomers (and some Seniors and Gen Xers) who are dissatisfied with many of the firms they interact with. Why? Because few firms understand what the Crankys really want.

The geeky consulting term for this unmet need is “operational excellence.”

This isn’t the same thing as convenience. Convenience is having a branch on every corner, or giving customers the ability to check their account balances online at 11pm while they’re wearing their bathrobes.

Operational excellence is something different. This story (from a participant in a market research study) will help describe the difference:

In addition to the checking account I have with my primary bank, I have a brokerage account with a few stocks (it’s not my primary brokerage account). About two months ago, I received a check for $50 from the bank, with no description of why.

When I called the bank to ask why they sent the check, I was told that some brokerage accounts were erroneously charged a $50 custodial fee.

After a brief pause, the rep said that he didn’t see the charge on my account. He concluded that the check was erroneously sent. He told me to rip it up and we’d be square. I said fine.

About a week later, I got a call from the account manager at my branch (the guy who calls every three months and asks “is everything all right?”). This time he asked me if I wanted to schedule an appointment with an investment advisor to discuss my portfolio allocation.

My immediate thought was “if you guys can’t keep $50 straight, how the hell are you going to keep $500,000 straight?” But I said “no, thanks” and hung up. Oh, by the way — I cashed the check anyway.”

Is this an example of poor product quality? No. Is it poor service quality? Not exactly. The Crankys are tired of doing business with firms that make mistakes, don’t have their act together, and aren’t coordinated across their LOBs — firms that take too much effort on the part of the customer to deal with.

You may be thinking: “OK, but this isn’t marketing’s problem.”

Yes it is. The customer experience IS marketing’s job. And when back office issues touch the customer, and diminish the customer experience, then smart marketers (who want to stay employed) will get involved.

To the Crankys, a superior customer experience isn’t about friendly, helpful people (they didn’t want to have to talk to them in the first place), or engaging, interactive ads. It’s about fast, seamless, problem-free, defect-free execution.

Commenting in Ad Age on the departure of some high-profile CMOs, Robert Passikoff, CEO of BrandKeys, said that “awareness does not mean profitability.” And in my opinion, improving profitability will require a renewed focus on process improvement — not only within marketing, but across the organization.

The implications: In 2007, smart marketers will spend less time and money on media-related branding efforts, and focus on process quality and integration.

Their rewards: 1) The Crankys’ business and loyalty; 2) A CEO who thinks that they’re focusing on the right things; and 3) Another year in the job.

A bonus reward: Improved brand rankings from customers that experience the operational effectiveness that many other firms lack.

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