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A lightly edited extract from an article by Geoffrey Keating (dated April 19th 2020).

**

These are uncertain times for any business. 

Maybe you’ve seen your top of the funnel demand decreasing. Or your sales cycles are getting longer. While each company feels the impact differently, one thing is certain – businesses are being forced to adapt to change at a pace we haven’t seen before.

One strategy we’ve found particularly useful in trying times is doubling down on customer retention.

This isn’t a new insight. In the last five years alone, the cost of customer acquisition has increased by over 50%. Businesses have gradually started to switch their focus from “How do we acquire more customers?” to “How do we retain the ones we already have?” 

Getting a handle on Customer Retention:

When getting started with retention, the obvious first step might be to look at exit surveys or recently churned customers. It might sound counter-intuitive, but this is actually the wrong place to start. 

Instead, look at your best customers. 

Why did these customers stay with your product? What actions did they take in your product? Why did they expand their usage of your product? If you can figure out what and why, you can start to reverse-engineer that path for other users.

You’ll often hear these referred to as “activation metrics” or “aha moments”, the high value engagement actions and events. An analysis of these events will help you understand the behaviors that, when performed, best correlate with users continuing to use your product for an extended period of time.

The canonical example is best illustrated by Chamath Palihapitiya and the early Facebook growth team. They understood what actions separate their best customers from those they lost – namely those that added 7 friends in 10 days.

And once you understand these behaviors, you can optimize your product or communication to help even more users take these actions, see value from your product and ultimately become a long-term, happy customer.

Now that you’ve got a handle on some of the data behind your retention, it’s time to come up with creative ideas for predicting churn and improving retention.

One good example: For early stage retention, encourage new signups to take high-value product actions without delay.

Most products see a precipitous drop in engagement in the first few days. Those that don’t – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest – do so by making sure users complete valuable product actions early on…

The other retention strategies, elaborated in the article, include looking for warning signals in terms of ongoing engagement intensity rather than mere clicking activity, communicating ROI whenever possible, avoiding single point failure by going beyond the champion in the company, optimizing the cancellation flow (seen to reduce the churn!)…

Of course the traditional wisdom of gleaning feedback from customers who left cannot be ignored. Churn is a natural byproduct of any business. Customers come and go, as does the demand for your product. Though it may be painful, make sure you have a well-considered exit ramp. Acknowledge the reasons they’re churning, address them, and make sure they leave endeared towards your company. You can use this data to either a) reclaim churned users or b) identify cohorts who are especially prone to churn, so you can get ahead of it. Best case scenario, you’ll open the lines of communication for a winback in the months ahead. But even if that’s off the table, you’ll get valuable insights you can use to help improve your product.

A quick win is tackling involuntary churn. Accidental cancellations or missed payments could account for a significant percentage of churn. The answer here is pretty simple: track the data and then create an automated email to remind users whose payments are overdue, or whose credit card is expiring…

**

The article and more may be read here.

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An interesting article, fairly short, relevant for these times when we are told to do things we never did before for collective benefit, with wider implications and applicability. The original content is very lightly edited and recast here for easy reading and comprehension (highlighting is mine).

Here we go:

**

Problem:

For the past two months, we’ve been told to wash our hands, wear face masks, and social distance. We’ve come up creative ways to do them all—with viral handwashing dancespublic pledgesZoom parties with live DJs, referred to as emotion-triggering devices. Judging by the beautiful photos of eerily empty public spaces around the world, most of us have been willing to comply—for now. But when will the novelty wear off? And what will happen to our new habits, still necessary for the public health crisis we’re facing?

Some countries, like Denmark and Austria, and several U.S. states, have already started to relax the strict stay-home regulations and are counting on their citizens to make smart choices to protect themselves and others. But are we confident that we’ll keep up our good behavior when left to our own devices? 

Solution:

Emotions are, by definition, temporary. So is attention. Using activity-mobilizing emotions such as fun, hope, anger, or fear can work exceptionally well to kick-start a new habit, but we still have months or even years of behavior change ahead of us. Before long novelty may fizzle out, motivation worn away and compliance unexciting. In fact it could get downright annoying.

Example: In 2009, designers created “Piano Stairs” at the Odenplan subway station in Stockholm. Each step was a piano key that made a sound when it was stepped on. The idea was to make it fun and easy for commuters to pick the healthy option of going up the stairs instead of taking the escalator. And it worked—for a couple of days. The initial excitement quickly gave way to the reality of rush hour, as commuters trampled over keys going up and down the stairs. To no surprise, the piano disappeared. But the video of the stairs gathered 23 million views on YouTube and is often still found in presentations by behavioral consultants.

So when the novelty fizzles out, how can we harness our current motivation and channel it into long-term change? The evidence is still sparse, but we do have several examples of behavioral interventions that have a longer shelf life. These are referred to as Nudges.

Nudges are of two kinds: Pure and Moral.

Pure nudges are simple changes to a preexisting choice environment meant to counteract simple inattention or laziness. They seamlessly blend in with their environment. They are typically not consciously noticed by the decision maker. Grabbing a ceramic cup conveniently stacked next to the coffee machine instead of a paper one from the cupboard does not require you to think about saving the rainforest before your morning coffee. The less conscious the nudges are the less they are prone to wearing off or even backfiring, regardless of whether you agree with the goal of the nudge or not. 

Two other examples of pure nudges: a) Perhaps the most successful example is Defaults. Individuals defaulted into pension plans, insurance in air-travel, two-sided printing, or renewable energy for their home seem to stick with the option. People either don’t notice it or don’t take the effort to change it from default b) Salience has also proven to be effective in the long term. Placing vegetarian food on top of a menu makes it more likely that customers will select it, and real-time feedback while showering reduced energy consumption of hotel guests. 

In contrast moral nudges are those that are fun or trigger fear, shame, or pride, rewarding “doing the right thing” with psychological utility or disutility. The nudges are meant to be consciously noticed. The most prominent one being the use of Social Proof—“9 out of 10 people in your city pay their taxes on time—you are currently not one of them” or “Compared to your neighbors with similar sized houses, you consume far more energy” or “Will you vote on Sunday? We will call you again and ask about your experience.” 

Social proof is powerful, no question—the frantic toilet paper buying we have seen in the past weeks was an unintended testament to that. In the short run, moral nudges can generate significant effects, but long-term behavior change is seldom. Further, moral nudges run the risk of backfiring. Individuals asked to donate repeatedly decided to opt-out of communication altogether, and others who regularly came out badly in comparison to their neighbors’ energy consumption were willing to pay money not to be contacted anymoreDeliberate defiance of these appeals could also explain the groups of college kids who went on spring break despite the health warnings or the Danish teenagers who now drive over the bridge to Sweden to party “because lockdown is boring.” 

Nudges can make it easier to do the right thing. All that said, taking past research in account, nudging on its own, whether moral or pure, won’t be enough to stimulate the required behavior change. The gap between what we want now (our lives to return to normal) and what we need to do (diligent maintain hygiene and continuous social distancing) is just too large. But that doesn’t mean lasting behavior change isn’t possible. We need to combine nudges with traditional economic incentives and regulations. Just like the traffic rules. We have laws, fines, and nudges (speed bumps or beeping seat-belts) that keep us and others safe on the road without invoking anxiety, shame, or fear every time we get into a car.

And designing the choice environment promoting/instilling long term habits. Example: Copenhagen, author’s hometown, has four large lakes in the city center, which have a small footpath around them that is popular for runners and people going for a stroll. At the start of the lock-down, the trail was converted to a one-way street to reduce the amount of tight face-to-face encounters. Currently, park guards control compliance, but already most people are in the habit of walking clockwise around the lake. A habit that can most likely be sustained with a simple sign and social norms. 

Like fighting climate change or obesity, overcoming this health crisis will be a marathon, not a sprint.  Our collective health depends on how we use these available mechanisms keeping in mind their long term impact versus the need.

**

As it must have already occurred to you, interestingly these concepts are equally valid and useful to bring about changes in various aspects of organizational behavior!

The article by Christina Gravert may be perused here.

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An old classic from Hubspot:

The entire North American sales force of Frisky Dog Food was gathered together for their national sales convention at Miami Beach. In the great auditorium the marketing director was giving a performance that any revivalist would have been proud of. Using the old pattern of call and response, he was really working up the spirits of his sales team.

“Who’s got the greatest dog food in North America?” the marketing director asked.

“We have!” the audience replied.

“And who’s got the greatest advertising campaigns?”

“We have!”

“Who’s got the most attractive packages?”

“We have!”

“Who’s got the biggest distribution?”

“WE HAVE!”

“Okay. So why aren’t we selling more of the product?”

One bold voice from the crowd replied:

“Because the darned dogs don’t like it.”

**

The clip is available here.

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Programmer to Team Leader:

“We can’t do this proposed project. **CAN NOT**. It will involve a major design change and no one in our team knows the design of this legacy system. And above that, nobody in our company knows the language in which this application has been written. So even if somebody wants to work on it, they can’t. If you ask my personal opinion, the company should never take these type of projects.”


Team Leader to Project Manager:

“This project will involve a design change. Currently, we don’t have any staff that has experience in this type of work. Also, the language is unfamiliar to us, so we will have to arrange for some training if we take this project. In my personal opinion, we are not ready to take on a project of this nature.”


Project Manager to 1st Level Manager:

“This project involves a design change in the system and we don’t have much experience in that area. Also, not many people in our company are
appropriately trained for it. In my personal opinion, we might be able to do the project but we would need more time than usual to complete it.”


1st Level Manager to Senior Level Manager:

“This project involves design re-engineering. We have some people who have worked in this area and others who know the implementation language. So they can train other people. In my personal opinion we should take this project, but with caution.”


Senior Level Manager to CEO:

“This project will demonstrate to the industry our capabilities in remodeling the design of a complete legacy system. We have all the necessary skills and people to execute this project successfully. Some people have already given in house training in this area to other staff members. In my personal opinion, we should not let this project slip by us under any circumstances.”


CEO to Client:

“This is the type of project in which our company specializes. We have executed many projects of the same nature for many large clients. Trust me
when I say that we are the most competent firm in the industry for doing this kind of work. It is my personal opinion that we can execute this project successfully and well within the given time frame.”

An year into the project…

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Source: dailytenminutes.com

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Pardon the frivolty.

The challenge was no less in this sales scenario:

The class-room lectures were over and now it was time for a project assignment.

The professor called for a bundle of combs to be brought in.

He called his students and gave them each a bunch of combs. They had to sell these combs to the monks belonging to a near-by monastery. They would take turns one after another, each given an hour to do selling.

 The first went in only to return crest-fallen after an hour.

‘What happened?’

‘Sir, the monks out there – every one of them – have their heads shaven to a shine. No surprise they had no use for a comb. Could not interest even one.’

The fellow going in second had different ideas.

He went up to the Administration and talked them into buying combs for the visitor’s rest-rooms. After all a visitor would almost always need to freshen up himself after the long travel from the city.

So he returned before his time managing to sell three combs, one each for a rest-room.

This fired up the third chap’s imagination.

Going in next, he too went up to the Administration. Made inquiries and found the monastery took in students for its residential training programs, providing them dormitory accommodation. From there it was a short piece of work to get them to provide each student a comb as part of minimal amenities.

He too returned before time grinning ear to ear – he had sold fifty combs, the intake capacity for next six months. After all a comb used by a student would not be used by another. Thus he had identified and addressed a recurring need.

What more could be done?

Looked a little hard on the last fellow going in.

Like his colleagues, he too made a bee-line to Administration block.

No clue what was going on…until it was close to the hour. He came out looking very exhausted. And then it was noticed he was walking out unencumbered by the bag of combs! What had happened? He gave or threw away his goods in disgust? The Prof was not going to like it…

After the first few steps, he broke into a sprint…all the way to the base, hands pumping the air overhead.

‘The entire lot of two hundred combs sold and they want more!!!’ he cried excitedly.

Steadying his breath, finally he broke the story: ‘It was not easy…had to meet monks at three levels. Finally they agreed to giving away combs to all visitors who came to the monastery. That would be about a hundred every month!’

But why should they be giving combs to the visitors?

‘You see, I believe, there is a good reason to: Coming here and observing the monks with shaven heads live a life of austerity, dedication, reclusion and rectitude, one would love to carry a ‘piece’ of this monastery with them back to their world for continued inspiration. A comb with select sayings of Buddha etched on it could be just that ‘piece’ – small, inexpensive for a give-away, in frequent use and enduring. A constant reminder to its user of his continued attachment to and his responsibilities in the material world. Also, imagine this: when he sets the comb on his head, it would be like receiving blessings from a Hand, also etched on the comb.’

‘Of course it took some talking to make them see the point.’

So it was spiritual appeal riding on utility fitted the given scenario too well, winning the day for him.

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Source: Based on a story from moralstories, image from indiamart.com and sierrapinesumc.org

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It’s not uncommon to find ‘experts’ go so wrong in their trend predictions, but to freely admit it in ‘print’ and re-calibrate oneself is not.

Ask any retailing expert, guru or know-it-all worth their weight in consulting fees and they will all tell you the same thing: the future of physical stores rests with “experiential” formats that present shoppers with an immersive atmosphere that can’t be replicated online. But what happens when they are wrong? Over the past year or so, two of the most high-profile new retail startups in the country – Pirch in the kitchen and bath business and TreeHouse which was billed as the green home improvement store — have either shut their doors completely or drastically scaled back their operations. Each was considered by all manner of retail observers (including yours truly) as the poster child for the future of retailing, yet each failed to achieve success. And somewhere in the telling of these two tales lie some lessons for other retailers trying to sort out how to keep all those physical doors open.

The retail guru Warren Shoulbergwho ‘loved Pirch and TreeHouse…and said so to anybody who asked‘ is reassessing the retail scene of the ‘experiential’ kind in his recent blog post. What is best about his blog: his posts are short, readable in minutes affording an easy peek into an expert’s mind. And, I thought, they have applicability far beyond retail.

Read his crisp insight here.

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This is about the sage Viswamitra (V) requesting King Dasharatha (D) for his young son’s (aged 12 years or less), help to conduct a sacrifice successfully – he expects two demons to disrupt the ritual with their usual fiendish antics. The sage gives the reason for his request: on the eve of performing the sacrifice, he does not want to lose control of his mind and curse the demons all the way to their hell (through such outbursts, sages often lose their power gained after enduring practice of austere tapas).

It is described essentially in Sarga 19 of Bala Kanda in Valmiki’s Ramayana.

The source used for this analysis is here.

In the 21 verses contained in this Sarga, the sage makes 13 statements (five of them are compound with two parts) as under exactly in the same sequence, reproduced verbatim from the source:

  1. Born in an illustrious lineage and initiated by sage Vasishta, this way (of speaking) befits you.
  2. Take a decision and be truthful to your promise.
  3. Rama is valiant, young and true to his prowess.
  4. (a) Protected by me and (b) by his own divine power, Rama is capable of destroying even those demons causing impediments to the sacrifice.
  5. (a) I will confer upon him, without doubt, a lot of blessings for his well-being (b) by which he will attain fame in all the three worlds.
  6. Both of them (Maricha and Subahu) will not be able to withstand Rama in any way. Rama, and Rama alone, is capable of destroying them.
  7. Proud of their strength, the two wicked demons have been noosed by Yama, the god of death. O tiger among kings they are no match for the mahathmana Rama.
  8. (a) O king, it is not proper for you to hesitate because of your paternal affection. (b) You need to know that both the rakshasas will perish. This, I assure you.
  9. (a) I know Rama who is a great soul, true to his prowess and (b) also Vasishta of great luster and these other sages who have been steadfast in asceticism also know.
  10. O king of kings, if you are seeking the benefits of righteousness, great everlasting fame in this world, it is fit and proper to give Rama to me.
  11. Kakustha, if your counselors and all other sages headed by Vasishta give their consent, then only you may relieve Rama.
  12. (a) You should spare your dear son, the lotus-eyed Rama, (b) impartial and detached, (a) for ten nights.
  13. Dasharatha, descendant of Raghu, act in such a manner that the time for my sacrifice is not delayed. Do not indulge in grief. Prosperity to you”

After speaking these words charged with dharma and artha the great sage resplendent Viswamitra fell silent. 

It’s easy to see these 13 statements fitting into a well-structured script planned by the sage V as under, set roughly in the same sequence:

  • Starts with two praises of D, (1 and 2) for him to live up?
  • Next, first mention (3) is made, rather simply, of Rama’s prowess and, not so startlingly in passing, about his divine power in 4(b) (also the word ‘mahathmana’ in 7?).
  • Follows up talking about his personal support to stand by Rama in 4(a) and 5(a).
  • Names and belittles the enemies for reassurance vis-a-vis Rama’s ability in 6, 7, 8(b) and 9(a).
  • Time to bring more pressure and ‘carrots’ for D to oblige in 5(b), 8(a), 10, 12(b) and 13.
  • Rounds up defining the duration of his demand for Rama’s assistance in 12(a) and also
  • Drawing support from other unassailable sources including his ‘arch rival’ sage Vasishta to buttress his assessment of Rama in 9(b) and 11.

Could it be better, you think?

Now for another interesting perspective: Going by the count (not by relative strengths) of the statements, it adds up to (each statement in full counts for one and part of a compound statement, half):  

  • So for D to be persuaded, there are 2 praises and 3.5 of pressures and
    ‘carrots’ for a total of 5.5 out of 13.
  • V’s personal support (‘his skin in the game’) assured for Rama makes up for 1 out of 13.
  • On Rama’s prowess, said matter-of-factly, it is 4.5 directly coming from him and another 1.5 of vouchsafing support from others for a total of 6 out of 13 on assessment of Rama’s abilities to meet the challenge.
  • Specifying duration of V’s demand is 0.5 out of 13.

Is that a good balance?

Some observations:

The sage’s assessment of Rama’s prowess is based more on his
insight than any precedent display. Nothing is said by the sage about Rama’s
equipment, no mention is made of specific astra-shastra’s
(weapons w/wo mantra’s) in Rama’s quiver – perhaps unnecessary, premature or
even inappropriate?

Rising above the family-pulls, Valmiki ends the Sarga with

‘Having listened to those auspicious words of Viswamitra, the king among kings, (Dasaratha) experienced intense grief out of fear. He became despondent.’

How could the words inducing fear and despondency in the virtuous other be considered as auspicious? Simply because the killing of those two demons – the sage had enough insight Rama would accomplish it despite being too young – was necessary (directly or otherwise) for the good of the kingdom at large, besides V himself gaining from it. Here’s a cardinal principle of well-being of a society, said not in so many words: the call of dharma is more powerful and must be heeded to than the tug of one’s heart-strings should there ever be a conflict. The same is asserted without ambiguity in different ways in statements: 8(a), 10, 12(b) and 13. This comes to us in age when the principle is made to stand on its head, when parents amass wealth brazenly thru misdeeds for themselves and, more so, their children. Or, clouded by affection, they’re guilty failing to check adharmic acts of omission and commission of their near and dear.

Interestingly the phrase ‘lotus-eyed Rama’ in statement 12(a) is unimaginably double-edged!! How? The ready explanation is: Poets often compare beautiful eyes like those of Rama to lotus flowers in bloom. No surprises there. Now to the not-so-ready: Just as a lotus folds itself up in the night and come night, the young Rama goes off to sleep peacefully. And that is exactly when the demons become hyperactive. Is it fair to the sleepy young boy to be thrown against demons when they are in their elements?

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PS: The source is responsible for the translation of the
original verses, included here verbatim and not for the rest of the content in
the post. The interpretation of ‘lotus-eyed Rama’ comes from here.
Image from flipkart.

So you know to hurl the brickbats at whom:-}  

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You cant go too far without hitting an expert sounding off on content and content marketing. Everyone and his uncle…

But not much said on what goes into content. Of course there is stuff to be found on story telling, but not tied tightly with content creation.

To clarify the point, many of travel and touristy content is at best a package of excitement experienced personally by the traveler like the cliche kid-in-a-candy-shop, but not necessarily worrying about taking the audience along vicariously. This is where story-telling gets in. But to tell a story, one must discover them first during travel, bringing altogether another dimension of excitement to travel!

A case in point is this short photo-post: Animation In Stone!

Posted just after returning from a sight-seeing trip to Egypt and Jordan, its impact could be to make one dig up a little more of history or may be to look henceforth at stonework wherever a little differently or even lure one to consider a trip to the place.

A small side story: The local tour operator, owned by some globally well-known names, did not take it up along with a few other posts for promoting his tours, when offered free for his use. Not even an acknowledgement! Of course the content may need to be improved upon with more drama and history injected and made a part of a larger canvas.

In conclusion, need to create content is widely accepted, but making it readable and actionable is something else.

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“Good service design is important for the overall user experience. Yet, it is even more important at the end of an experience (or exposure to a brand) due to the Peak-End Rule and Recency Effect. Placing the business needs before the user’s needs, breaking the user’s flow and not addressing a user’s need at the point of their need are primary culprits in designing a poor experience.”

Chris Kiess writes in his article “Service Design — How to Fail at the Checkout and Ruin Your User’s End Experience” appearing here.

While he talks about “8 ways I see retail merchants like Target, Walmart or Meijer fail in service design as it relates to the end of the customer experience and the final impression they make with consumers,” there’s an interesting snippet about a negative perception and how it could be turned around.

First about the perception:

“The biggest faux pas of superstores is having too many checkout registers and not enough cashiers. Most people would probably not be concerned during the holidays (or any other time) if they sauntered over to the checkout and there were ten cashiers at all ten registers with lines behind each. This would give the customer the illusion the store is busy and they are doing everything they can to help customers move through the checkout process. But, what generally happens instead is you walk up to the checkout area after finding everything you need and there are thirty registers with only five in service. This, I cannot understand. On the surface, it gives the impression the store could do more. After all, there are twenty-five more registers and surely they could open one or two more of them. It boggles the mind that a store would feel the need to install thirty checkout lanes and never use them all at one time.”

He suggests:

“This is largely about human perception. The simple fix is to cut the number of registers installed and use a greater percentage of them during busy times. This would give the impression (and shape perceptions) a greater effort is being employed to move people through the lines.”

A thought:

The suggestion could still leave at times a few unattended counters. So why not have counters that could be rolled in from back of the store on need basis and wheeled away when done? Just as many as needed, leaving no visibly unattended counters at any time.

Also could the stores do like the airlines doing in-line check-in with staff going around with their special devices? Of course, it needs some adaption to allow for handling the purchases in the cart.

End

Image from here.

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