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The Modern Customer Podcast

The Modern Customer Podcast is a show exploring the intersection of customer experience, digital transformation, and the future. We will also dive into related leadership topics. The show is hosted by Forbes contributor and customer experience futurist Blake Morgan and author of the new book The Customer of the Future: 10 Guiding Principles for Winning Tomorrow's Business. The show features guests that include practitioners, authors, influencers and other tastemakers.
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Now displaying: August, 2019
Aug 28, 2019

If you had great intentions of playing the guitar but gave it up after your first lesson, you aren’t alone. As many as 90% of new guitarists quit within their first year. But that might not be the case much longer. Fender Digital is building a thriving subscription model that teaches guitar skills that people actually stick with—and so far, 100,000 people are on board.

Fender is known for its iconic guitars, but customers are much more valuable if they actually stick with the instrument instead of making a one-time purchase and giving it up. By reducing churn of first-time players by just 10%, Fender has the potential to double the size of the entire industry.

The challenge was in how to reduce churn and teach novice guitarists with short attention spans who are always on the go. The subscription model of Fender Digital allows musicians to learn at their own pace while also addressing many of the issues of why people quit. According to Ethan Kaplan, GM of Fender Digital, one of the most common reasons people quit playing the guitar is because it hurts their fingers. As a result, the first thing taught in Fender Digital is how to play without it hurting.

The basic model of Fender Digital is a subscription that moves students through a variety of guitar learning modules. The course is based around data and customer feedback to teach basic skills and more advanced concepts. Students get immediate value once they join and have access to the material. The subscription model is also enticing for customers because it automatically updates with new content instead of requiring people to have to buy new versions of a course. Kaplan says that most people are linear learners and work through the modules in progression, but Fender Digital also allows people to jump around and focus on the skills or songs that are most interesting to them. Giving power to the students can go a long way in keeping them engaged and motivated with the guitar.

A subscription model really comes down to providing continual value. Fender has found that when a company provides value, people want to subscribe. The key is to continually provide value for guitar students at all levels. For Fender Digital, that means opening channels for communication with users and regularly editing and adding new content. Testing the content to help people if they get stuck and putting themselves in students’ shoes helps create a high-quality experience. The product is constantly evolving to match what people want to learn.

Fender Digital also complements the main Fender brand. Kaplan says the two sides work together to create a lifetime of engagement for loyal customers with everything from products to services and experiences.

The subscription model is growing increasingly popular because it provides more ways for customers to connect with brands. Fender Digital is taking subscription services to the next level by providing value and strong content.

Aug 20, 2019

How does a 100-year-old company continually reinvent itself to change how the world works? By relying on and driving a high-quality customer experience.

IBM’s current success is built around its historic roots and the customer-first culture that has existed from the beginning. For CMO Michelle Peluso, that means standing on the backs of giants while also looking towards the future.

The goal of IBM’s customer experience is to create more one-to-one interactions and move away from mass marketing and experiences. Peluso says the most important thing is seamlessness. Silos are common in large companies like IBM, but IBM avoids them by creating agile teams that are focused on a common goal. Each agile marketing team has a mix of specialists from different areas, such as IT, marketing and product design. The teams are tasked with thinking about how to sell a particular IBM product. Bringing together different backgrounds and skillsets for a common goal allows for unique perspectives and a seamless approach to customer experience across the entire organization.

Marketing plays a large role in making sure the client journey is well instrumented so that IBM gets feedback when things aren’t going well. The right client feedback at the right points highlights areas for improvement.

IBM’s customer experience is driven by data and includes new technology like AI. Peluso’s agile marketing teams use IBM Watson to get proactive alerts each morning about areas where they are underperforming. Watson also gives the teams reasons for the lack of success and suggestions for improvements. Instead of the human employees having to manually dig through endless amounts of data, Watson’s AI capabilities provide proactive alerts that allow teams to move more quickly and accurately.

Peluso says emerging technologies give customers more control and puts them in charge of their own experiences. This will only continue to grow in the future of marketing and customer experience.

Along with AI and agile teams, Peluso believes blockchain will have a large impact on the future of customer experience and marketing. Instead of moving through a complicated process like media buying with numerous moving parts and limited accountability, blockchain could potentially connect different parts of the supply chain with one record of the truth. Media buying could potentially be more accurate and targeted to provide personalized customer experiences.

A high-quality customer experience doesn’t come from a single action or person, but from the collective efforts of many people working towards the same goal. At IBM, that translates into leveraging new technology and ideas while still holding strong to brand values from the past to continually driving forward-thinking solutions customers crave and expect. 

Aug 13, 2019

Taking a relaxing trip by rail or hopping on a high-speed commuter train to the next city is common in Europe and Asia, but it’s a foreign idea for most Americans. Virgin Trains USA is hoping to change that by bringing the future of train travel to the U.S.

The sweet spot for train travel is between highly populated city centers that are within 200 to 300 miles of each other. It’s a distance that most people drive instead of fly, but the trip by car can be full of traffic, construction and detours. Instead, the goal of Virgin Trains USA is to create a network of high-speed passenger trains along busy highway corridors so that travelers and commuters can get where they need to be more in a way that’s quicker, easier and more eco-friendly. Virgin Trains USA president Patrick Goddard says trains are 90% safer than cars and provide faster and more reliable travel.  

Virgin Trains’ first big foray in the U.S. is revamping an old rail line in Florida. After updating the line to connect Miami and West Palm Beach, Virgin Trains is now endeavoring on phase two to extend the line to Orlando in the next few years. Trains that can reach speeds of 125 miles per hour will soon be zooming past people stuck on the freeway on the three-hour drive between Miami and Orlando.

Virgin Trains also has plans to build a train route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that could cut the three-hour trip to just 75 minutes, as well as other potential sites that could link neighboring cities.

But Virgin Trains is hoping to gain a following not just for its speed, but also for its experience. As the company expanded in the U.S., it brought it architects, designers and visionaries to create an amazing experience in the station and on board. Goddard taps into his hospitality background to ensure the experience disrupts and changes the status quo of train travel in the U.S. and around the world.

A large part of that is the digital experience. Virgin Trains strives for a digital experience that will ultimately involve as little interaction from the user as possible. That means keeping things seamless and simple, such as integrating all forms of transportation from start to finish in a single booking and allowing passengers to order food to their seat from the station or the train. Train travel has the potential to give passengers their lives back instead of being stuck in stressful traffic jams.

The future of train travel is here, and as Goddard says, it’s not your grandma’s train service. A modern network of high-speed trains could transform how people travel and do business as it connects cities and passengers with amazing experiences.

 

Aug 6, 2019

How do you take on an industry giant and deliver innovative solutions? With a customer-first culture that becomes a competitive advantage.

Mike McDerment created FreshBooks when he couldn’t find a great accounting solution for his small design business. He designed the product for business owners, not accountants. Now, the company has over 10 million customers and is the #2 small business accounting software in America, after giant QuickBooks.

From the beginning, FreshBooks had a customer-first culture and focused on building close relationships with customers. McDerment and his team focus on building customer proximity where the people buying the product aren’t far-off numbers, but rather real people who are always the center of the company.

Every new FreshBooks employee spends their first month working in customer service. They learn about the products and then spend time answering phone calls and chatting with customers. McDerment says starting all employees with the customer service background helps them understand the products and keeps them close to the customers so they remember who they work for. The customer service team even designed and runs the onboarding process because it is that central to the culture for new employees.

FreshBooks has always invested money in customer service, even before many other companies caught on to the need to do so. McDerment says that customer service isn’t a cost center, but rather an opportunity. Some companies view investing in customer service as a necessary evil, but it should actually be viewed as a revenue generator because of all of the gold found in customer experience. McDerment says that if you listen carefully, the customers have all the answers, from where to focus the company’s effort to what products to design for the future. Customer service is a valuable feedback loop that helps FreshBooks get insights to pass on to the correct teams to put into action.

Aside from its unorthodox approach to customer service, FreshBooks also used a unique method to build the next version of its product. Knowing that competitors would be watching to see what FreshBooks would do next, the company built a seemingly competing product under a different brand name so that no one would steal its ideas. Once the new version was proven, it became the main FreshBooks product.

Building a successful company comes with its ups and downs, but McDerment says that focusing on innovation and remembering to put customers first makes all the difference. The biggest factor to success doesn’t show up on the balance sheet; it’s the culture that makes all the difference.

 

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