Posted on August 24, 2017 by Innovation Executive Forum
On our most recent conference call, IEF chair Erika Van Noort hosted Devon Wright, co-founder of Turnstyle and current General Manager of Yelp WiFi. Wright spoke to the IEF members about using technology to “close the feedback loop” between businesses and the customers who love them.
In this article, we’ll delve into his thoughts on innovation, customer retention, and loyalty, including:
Most businesses recognize the value in being able to find and reach out to their most loyal customers. On the call, Wright described a similar experience as the frontman of a band.
“I had a passion for our fans, but when you think about it, that’s really our customers,” he explained.
Even the least-known bands have a handful of people who show up to every gig. On the other hand, it’s a rare few that have built a massive, die-hard following over the years.
The bands I looked up to in the world, like The Grateful Dead or the Dave Matthews Band, those big, big bands that had a kind of staying power… that was driven by their effort to go out of their way to find those great fans and recognize those fans by giving them perks.
In his own experience, Wright and his band ran into trouble keeping track of repeat attendees at their shows. It was easy enough when twenty or thirty people showed up. But, when numbers pushed to two-hundred or more, it became difficult to connect with everyone each time. For businesses who are building and growing their database of repeat customers, they are presented with a similar challenge.
For Wright, the solution was to apply cloud-managed wi-fi at the venue to act as a point-of-exchange for personal data. After a fan’s first opt-in, the system automated future check-ins and tracked their data on an ongoing basis. The process didn’t require the user to download an app, swipe a card, or re-enter a password on each visit.
“We realized this isn’t just a band problem. This is an every-small-to-medium business problem…and maybe even bigger.”
There are clear benefits to a frictionless exchange of wi-fi access for contact information in other industries, such as hospitality, food-and-beverage or air travel. Yelp found that 62 percent of consumers spend more time in places that provide free wi-fi. And, 50 percent of them spend more because of the extra time spent in the establishment.
Television, along with every medium that came before it, was “one-directional.” While a brand had the means to communicate their message, the audience had no direct way to respond. In the TV world, marketing was governed by one rule: whoever talks loudest wins.
Innovations in digital and social media have now provided consumers a way to talk back. Wright believes the biggest implication of this change is that consumers who respond to marketing activities now expect brands to show they’re listening in return.
“If I know I can talk back to a brand, I’m expecting them to answer,” he said.
According to Wright, many businesses are “totally unarmed” in this area. In fact, many companies go to the trouble of collecting data, but only 32 percent use it to personalize customer interactions.
What I believe and what I’m seeing, definitely, is as businesses build tools to actually listen to their customers and respond,” said Wright, “they’re really shocking and delighting customers in a way that’s a competitive advantage.
Today, the repeat customer earns not just a 10% off coupon, but also a personalized message promising their favorite dish will be waiting for them on their next visit. That level of attention makes a customer feel welcome, remember the brand, and come back again. The personalized response, based on a personal history with the business, leads to real loyalty and retention.
As a leader, it’s just as important to apply the concept of listening within your internal organization.
You can’t expect your people or your team to want to listen to the customer if they themselves don’t feel that you’re listening to them,” said Wright.
Wright explained that your most important clients are the ones who come to work for you every day. People spend more of their time at work than anywhere else. Tools like Officevibe and Glassdoor “close the feedback loop” by applying the same kind of multi-directional communication to the workplace.
By gathering data on workplace culture and work-life balance, they allow organizations to take the pulse of the organization and guide decisions about how it’s run based on meaningful, real-time data.
Once again, it’s of equal importance to use the data captured in a meaningful way. “It’s actually worse to ask someone a question, they answer, and nothing gets done about it,” Wright points out, “because now they just feel like they’ve been taken advantage of.”
Wright believes this positive attention trickles down. “If they feel listened to, then it’s just so natural for them to go out of their way to listen to their people, their customers.”
In many of our IEF discussions, we encounter the same technology challenge time and again: data. IT leaders across the country are saying “I don’t even have data towers anymore, I have data swamps,” recounted host Erika Van Noort.
According to a 2016 study, the average organization derives value from just 15% of its data. Collecting and storing data is easier and less expensive now than ever. Wright asserts that this makes it easy for companies to become addicted to it. After all, that data could have value in the future. And, there’s the risk that after getting rid of that data, a third party will find a marketable use for it.
“Even though we had this clear idea of connecting with fans and having this one-to-one relationship, we ended up getting obsessed with data” said Wright. As the hoard of data grows bigger, he explained, so does the organizational cost of holding onto it. With too much data, you risk losing sight of the actual value you’re trying to bring to the customer.
Wright’s advice to businesses is to bite the bullet and get rid of everything but data that ties into your core value proposition. In his experience with a major restaurant chain, fine-tuning the type of data being collected led to tangible improvements in the client’s ability to identify, target and retain their repeat customers.
Who cares about all this stupid data? It isn’t answering the ultimate question, which is ‘are we driving value to the end customer?’
Retail is an industry where brick-and-mortar businesses will have to meet disruption head-on, or face extinction. Innovations in e-commerce and home delivery mean more of our shopping choices will revolve around convenience and personalization.
“Retail is changing dramatically. I don’t think it’s going to go away. But, who’s going to win?” asked Wright. On the call, he pointed to the recent Whole Foods acquisition by Amazon to illustrate a future where more functional, less “experiential” activities, such as grocery shopping, will move online.
An IEF member admitted on the call that she hadn’t stepped inside a grocery store in over a year. “Technology is allowing [businesses] to get out of our own way…It’s still about people. But, you have to give those people the power to talk to customers like people.”
Knowing who’s visiting your store and what they represent to your business may be empowering. But, there is a flip-side, warned several forum members, in the potential for privacy concerns. In other words, there is a “creepiness” factor to collecting and tracking customer data.
“It is that privacy paradox,” said the member, “everybody wants things to be convenient, so we click ‘Agree’ on these agreements that we accept or approve without actually reading them. I think it’s about a trust. There’s a trust issue there.”
However, if the genuine intent is to listen and not harm or trick anyone, Wright posted, the trade-off is worthwhile. The best way to solve this privacy push-back, he argued, is to use that data to attach an immediate, tangible value to the customer exchange.
“You want to create the ‘Cheers’ effect. You wanna go where everybody knows your name,” Wright sang as he referenced the famous 80s sitcom.
Here are Devon Wright’s key lessons for using technology to convert customers into super-fans:
To conclude the call, host Erika Van Noort prompted Wright to offer some advice for his younger self.
“I kind of fought off my natural tendencies. I thought ‘Oh, that’s easy to me, it must be easy for everyone else. There can’t be value in that,’” said Wright. “I tell this to entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs I meet at business schools: whatever you love to do, that could be a thing.”
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