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Thoughts on Google Checkout

This is a smart strategic move by Google as it is an advertiser incentive and retention strategy first and foremost. The added “discount noise” will make it harder to compare ROI rates to Yahoo! Search Marketing and MSN Adcenter. Judging by the number of vendors that signed up, they put in a lot of effort to launch this.

But make no mistake, after control of the delivery channel, this is ultimately about control of customer data. And in that regard, I’m not sure the customer value proposition of one account alone is enough for people to make this change. Having one checkout account is nice, but I’m not sure that will be significant incentive alone from customer’s point of view. The consumer already has checkout and/or fraud protection. However, the merchants save by having the payment go through there if they are an Adwords advertiser, so they may eventually provide incentives to do this.

What will be most interesting is to see how and if this service evolves with new features in the future.

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Comcast Tech Tells Story

Most of you by now have no heard about the video of the Comcast tech who fell asleep while waiting for the customer service representative. Comcast fired the tech in the video this week.

Did this really cure the root cause of the customer experience problem though?

This morning a Comcast tech came to my residence to fix a problem with my cable. He was actually very nice and knew what he was doing. I asked him about his thoughts about the incident.  He said that “Oh, yeah we had a whole long meeting on that one. We were told not to sit, lean or anything.” The tech, not the first one to do so, stated that nothing is ever the fault of the customer service or dispatch area.

This is a really interesting point. If the call center cost center wasn’t understaffed, this whole incident never would have taken place. Perhaps it’s the Comcast SVP of the tech call center who should be on the unemployment line, not the tech. Comcast’s response to fire the tech shows that they just don’t get it. A better response would have been an announcement that Comcast would hire more customer service reps across the board to address the true root cause of the problem (call hold wait time) and would make the call cold wait times publicly transparent. 

This whole incident demonstrates the importance of a customer focused culture that places a premium on learning, innovating and improving the client experience.

Prediction: Comcast will have another incident similar to this again because they didn’t address the true issue. 

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Online E-mail Service Reliability Needs Improvement

At present, I have 4 web-based e-mail accounts, Google’s Gmail, Microsoft’s Hotmail/, Yahoo! Mail and my University of Chicago Graduate School of Business “Email4Life” account.

I can now discuss the issue without being accused of favoritism or bias because all four of the organizations above have now done this recently. This is the issue of e-mail reliability and making large changes in the live environment and ignoring the issues of a continuous and positive user experience is a disturbing trend. All of the above providers have had large outages and/or rollbacks to previous versions in the past month. This is not optimal and should not become the “norm”.

I’d like to ask program managers to please consider the following going forward:
1) Reliability of service is paramount and should not be sacrificed
2) Sacrificing long-standing features in new versions is not a good idea
3) Communicating and explaining the feature upgrades transparently is encouraged
4) Asking for user feedback on new features is encouraged
5) If the application operates more slowly using Ajax than it did before, please optimize it before implementing

I would hope that these organizations would understand the potential attrition and retention implications of actions such as these and change their future actions before it adversely affects them.

I’d like to share a glimpse at the top items on my wish list for improvements:
– I love the conversation bundling feature, though there are times when I would like to unbundle a conversation and adding the ability to do this would be helpful
– Automatic spell checking (the new Hotmail/ Beta has spell check integrated as you type – this should become the best practice)
– In, restoration of the radio buttons to complete actions on multiple e-mails at once is necessary
– Stability of needs to be a priority, I switched back to Hotmail for now (you get kudos for the feedback form – though an acknowledgment that shows someone read it would be confidence inspiring)
Yahoo! Mail
– In the new version, restoration of the radio buttons to complete actions on multiple e-mails at once is necessary
– Automatic spellchecking (the new Hotmail/ Beta has spell check integrated as you type – this should become the best practice)
– In the new version, I’d like it to look and feel more like the old Yahoo! Mail – e-mail me if you’d like more detail
University of Chicago
– Build an understanding that Email4life is a critical alumni networking tool and treat it as such
– Communicate clearly with all members of the community and act on their feedback in an accountable manner; In summary, providers need to fully consider the user experience when making changes in their offerings
Do other people have other suggestions or thoughts on this issue?

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Internet Retailer 2006 Workshop Summary: Affiliate Marketing – The Unsung Hero of Online Marketing

Boris Wertz, COO,

20-30% of orders come from affiliate marketing

Research network hosted versus internally hosted options

Payout type – pay per sale, per lead, Hybrid – bonus for first time buyers

Tools – Establish a good mix of standard and advanced link types, provide deep and up to date data feeds

Staffing needs decision point – internal versus external

Familiarize yourself with payout types, run promotions

Retention – retention of affiliates is difficult, use CRM to track, communicate regularly with affiliates, etc

Optimization – Segment publisher by recruitment type, test landing pages, etc 

Measurement – compare MOM and YOY and web analytics 

Chris Henger, substituting for Stuart Frankel, President, 

Affiliate marketing is 5-20% of online sales (interesting that his figure is lower than the Abe Books marketing speaker – maybe book category is higher?)– reach customers in the research and purchase mode

Affiliate marketing is fast growing but is a mature web space

Affiliate marketing is intertwined with the search channel 

Mass, open or private program – which one is right for you?

Approved, live and active program

Understand, Develop, Perform

Understand payment terms in your category and brand management implications.

Compliance lab to learn from affiliates. 

Steven Denton, President,

Communication is paramount, affiliates prefer e-mails IMs

Send segmented newsletters and engage in proactive outreach

Suggested site –

Compensation Structures will vary – tiered and bonus offers and sales contests and promotions

Hidden pitfalls – don’t dedicate enough resources, focusing on sheer number of affiliates, viewing affiliate marketing as cheap advertising    

Hub of affiliate marketing activity –

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Internet Retailer 2006 Workshop Summary: E-mail Marketing

Don Zeidler, Director of Direct Marketing, The W. Altee Burpee Co. (afterwards I asked him about his title and if I could assume that he was in control of both marketing in both offline and online worlds – not disjointed parts – he said yes – I suspect this will become increasingly commonplace in the future)

Mathew Seeley, President Cheetahmail, an Experian Company

Mark Friedman, Chief Digital Marketing Officer, Warnaco Inc.

Deliver Relevance in E-mail – this is critical as we get into message overload and this panel argued that means segmentation.

Not all customers are the same, so don’t treat them that way.

Basic segmentation – Demographic, Geographic, A/B Testing

Types of campaigns to test – Win Back, Loyalty, Servicing, Operational, Remarketing, Life Cycle, Renewal, Transactional

Thank you notes after purchase have a high ROI

It’s the little things that matter:

Ask Them

Grow Your List

Keep Your Creative Fresh

Welcome, Birthday, Thank You Message

Integrate Call Center, POS, In Store Kiosk

You don’t have to get all of the data at once. Start slow, ask for more data later.

Email authentication –

ISP feedback loops – example – MSN Smart Market Data

Be aware of new services like Sender Score Certified – a service of Return Path

In the final analysis, if you don’t send relevant messages to your customers, someone else will and you will lose out!