This week on CNBC was a 2 part series on Peter Thiel’s business accelerator 20 under 20. Watching this lead me last year into a variety of paths in looking at business accelerator and trying to start one focused on sustainability in Colorado called Best of The Best (BOTB) concept. It has not been created yet, but will someday. Anyhow, there is one more showing on Sunday night (I think 7pm and 8pm MDT) you might want to set your DVR for it. It might be worth recording / transferring to tape or DVD for use in helping others understand some of the ideas (obviously NBC’s production values are going to be higher then we could create) when the time is appropriate. Peter’s model is one of a foundation that is well funded, in contrast to BOTB. They are not taking any equity or IP rights, but I think there are some models for how to run a competition, and examples of what to expect.
- Peter Thiel got headlines last year with his fellowship to skip school – http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/05/31/fellowship-pays-students-100000-to-not-attend-college/
- He seems excellent at staying in the news constantly. From just yesterday he got press with – http://techland.time.com/2012/08/16/billionaire-peter-thiels-latest-investment-3d-printed-meat/
- Having a foundation backing and providing a clear sense of community and giving – http://thielfoundation.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5&Itemid=10
- The fellowship website – http://www.thielfellowship.org/
- Here is a write up of his comments at this weeks Fortune’ Brainstorm conference over in Aspen – http://www.businessinsider.com/peter-thiel-eric-schmidt-fortune-brainstorm-2012-7
In tripping around looking for this background I found this interesting lecture of his:
This is a class by Peter Theil – who is changing thoughts on education and entrepreneurship: http://blakemasters.tumblr.com/post/25149261055/peter-thiels-cs183-startup-class-19-notes-essay
I have not had a chance to look at other class notes of his lectures (yet) but here they are: http://blakemasters.tumblr.com/peter-thiels-cs183-startup
So what are your thoughts on ‘skipping college’ to go straight into bringing your passion to life? What are your thoughts on our education system?
I got wound up and wanted to help illustrate the slight change in education costs in asking the question to frame it for conversation.
Here is a graph showing Peter’s point of there is an education bubble:
Or you can look at Bloomberg’s version which shows it relative to the ‘out of control’ health care cost increases of the recent past, and housing price increases that many on both sides of the aisle feel will kill this country. – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-15/cost-of-college-degree-in-u-s-soars-12-fold-chart-of-the-day.html
If you want to see the individual data points and see if the problem is 2 year colleges (or community colleges) or 4 year colleges or combined, the data is listed here from the department of education. Here is a chart mapping out college costs over the last 30 years – http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76
SOURCE:U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Digest of Education Statistics, 2010 (NCES 2011-015),Chapter 3 .
|Total tuition, room and board rates charged for full-time undergraduate students in degree-granting institutions, by type and control of institution: Selected years, 1980–81 to 2009–10|
|Year and control of institution||Constant 2008–09 dollars1||Current dollars|
|All institutions||4-year institutions||2-year institutions||All institutions||4-year institutions||2-year institutions|
1Constant dollars based on the Consumer Price Index, prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, adjusted to a school-year basis.
NOTE: Data are for the entire academic year and are average total charges for full-time attendance. Room and board were based on full-time students. Data through 1995-96 are for institutions of higher education, while later data are for degree-granting institutions. Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. The degree-granting classification is very similar to the earlier higher education classification, but it includes more 2-year colleges and excludes a few higher education institutions that did not grant degrees.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Digest of Education Statistics, 2010 (NCES 2011-015),Table 345.
The blog ChurchMarketingSucks had a recent post on creating your congregation’s brand. Here is my response to their key questions of:
Should you find your church in need of an effective brand management strategy, here are three questions that I submit as points to start the dialogue:
- What is your church’s brand?
- Who is specifically responsible for managing your church’s brand?
- How do you effectively communicate your church’s brand internally and externally?
Another way to put the concept is, how can you meet the needs of your audience. For example, if visiting seekers are looking for your services, what can you do to help them understand what you have is what they are looking for?
The post’s questions are a great start. Let me just highlight that branding is not a one step effort but an ongoing process. You don’t just put up a sign with a simple logo and call it done. You don’t just put a logo on the bulletin and call it done. You need to do more then add a color to the name tags to be finished. Branding is a process of communicating what the values, ideal and aspirations of an organization through symbols as well as words. Do you know any other process that has been ongoing for say about 2000 years?
Communicating the truth of your services will take time and effort. You need to put it in the language of your seekers, not the internal shorthand of those inside. You need to share the joy and fun of joining. But then some causes are worth a little effort aren’t they?
The idea of working in collaboration has been around for a while, and CharlotteOne has a great idea. Notice how well McDonalds and CocaCola have been working together for a few years. Both win by meeting the needs of their customers.
I also remind others that defining your brand can be a significant effort. Especially for those not practiced in brand development work. But the beginning approach is to look at what the value is to a new guest to your house. Consider how their needs can be met better, or more uniquely then the other choices a visitor has. Every town has a variety of churches sharing the word of Christ. Again the key is to look at it through the visitors perspectives. Your perspective can provide hints. But more importantly look at what you valued when you 1st entered your congregation and what your needs were then. Consider what you were looking for, and how you choose to attend.
Branding can be a great way to define what your value can be to a new seeker. This effort can be lead by others or used as a team development project that can truly inspire all to greater sense of clarity to what the value is to the seeker.
Those of you working for others, or considering hiring others, probably are interested in what the going ‘rate’ is. How much will it cost to create your eCommerce channel? How much will it cost to maintain my help desk and answer all those questions? How much should I pay my CIO (chief information officer) to herd all the parts of my technology infrastructure to manage my website and more?
Well the short answer is either ‘it depends’ or ‘as much as you want to pay’. But neither is real helpful without context. So I find it helpful to see what other companies are doing with their IT staff and management. In the information management industry UBM has created a long term name for themselves as understanding what is happening in the IT world with their variety of publications including Information Week, and analysis services. Granted their bias is heavily towards enterprise work, but they try to segment their data whenever possible. They have been doing annual surveys for quite a while, and recently their 2012 salary survey came out.
The survey is based on over 1,300 responses in large and small organizations, with much slicing and dicing to allow you to see how your staff matches. But it also helps to understand the mindset of employees, and to see how other businesses structure their IT teams. That is part of what I find useful in reviewing the survey and looking at it across the pages. Looking at regional differences and major city compared to a region has some insights as well.
I was most focused on some friends who have vast experiences, but are currently working in the help desk area. Here are some of the insights I collected from the data (all numbers are in thousands of US dollars per year):
- Typically, salaries are 1% or 2% more then last year in information technology after a flat 2011.
- To double your salary – jump from help desk work to management. Help desk is always viewed as the lowest common demoninator, and is paid accordingly low. If you want to increase your pay, look for something ‘simpler’. Or at least something that is labeled differently.
- page 41 – Seattle average staff base $99k vs. Chicago $88k. Seattle is probably offset by higher total package with more benefits and bonus.
- page 43 – Midwest average staff base is $79k vs. Pacific region $92k (after ‘subtracting’ average for Chicago, means that outside of Chicago (all the way north to Kenosha) is way lower.
- page 45 – Manager pay though the swing in higher pay switches in the Chicago dual with Seattle. With Chicago, manager average is $118k for base salary vs. Seattle $110k. This may also incorporate that Seattle may tend to have more ‘working’ programming managers rather then ‘stand alone’ management, creating almost a hybrid rate (lower pay for split duties).
- page 49 – 73% expect 401k match next year.
- page 51 – 48% attended paid company training last year.
- page 59 – shows how many companies that IT people have been at. 29% have worked at 3 or more companies in last 10 years. It is not clear how many have been with multiple companies while sitting at the same desk, but corporate takeovers changed the sign at the parking lot. I once worked for 3 companies in the space of 4 months at the same desk.
- page 82 – less then half have a bachelors degree (or higher). The percentage is even lower if you are in management.
- page 85 – Many people are working in jobs with companies with annual revenue under $50million – 38% of jobs are with these smaller companies. Not all jobs are enterprise jobs.
- page 87 – 20% of jobs are in companies with less then 100 total employees (total, not just IT).
- page 88 – shows which industries tend to pay the most – in terms of total packages non-profit is lowest. In spite of what Governor Walker says, government is 3rd lowest after education (which is still typically a government job). For those that feel that government employees with defined benefits packages should look at these numbers. This goes against your pension frustration. It infers that government employees are taking a $15-30k cut in pay per year for the better pension. The time value of money is an interesting analysis. Is it fair or not? The defined benefits of government positions is in contrast to 75% of all IT employees expect a 401k program with an employer match on page 49.
How does this survey compare to your experiences? Do you find any surprises, please share in the comments section?
One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly see trends. Monetate is a single company represents new trends multivariate ecommerce platform optimization.
At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I was able to how the cost of computing continually dropping is affecting how we merchandise (1st on line, but you know the wisdom will be carried to bricks and mortar stores as well).
One of the booths I got to see was monetate. What stood out for me was how much computing is being done in real time and in an anticipatory fashion. In essence they are taking your shopping cart system (which may, well is probably, very large) and creating variations of it for all sorts of testing. They can test by what city you come from, or if it is raining today. They can test or present based on your past history with you or how close you are to a Walmart. They can compound testing if you are a repeat customer on a rainy day in a media market that is inexpensive.
Watching the monetate’s demo, and remembering their presentation, I am reminded of when I used to run scenarios on large multimillion dollar data centers, and forget to limit the sample size to ‘reasonable number’. I would get my manager bringing my report the next day (reports only printed a few times a day, but when you busy the machine all night it takes a while) showing me the chargeback of the mainframe’s cost that exceeded both my and my manager’s cost for a year. Monetate’s system lets me create those scenario experimentation on an ongoing basis either as test or production – in real time.
What I see here is the magic of being able to move as much computing power to SaaS before the web customer shows up. It also is able to quickly identify what the identity of each visitor is. This allows responding much more like a human store clerk would. Making many decisions with ease because once you know the ‘rules’ they are easy and ‘obvious’. A store clerk seeing a visitor show up on a long skateboard is probably more interested in snowboarding then ski’s or toboggans. A customer wearing a $2,000 watch is probably not looking at the costume jewelry in the corner of the store. These snap judgements are what allow us to determine which of the thousands of cars we pass on our way to work will be a problem, and which are just going along. It is a wondrous marvel of evolution to survive in the complex world we live in. And computers can just do a fraction of it.
We have been trying to get computers to have this same ‘artificial intelligence’ for decades. And we are still a long way from it. But increasingly, we are able to in small domains define experiments that let us test and tweak what is the best way to present information or experiences for website visitors that meet their needs on their terms. Monetate is helping that become incredibly easier for online shopping.
One of the other keys I see in monetate (and similar tools), is the ability embrace Lean Startup methodology. The concept of iteration. The key is understanding that now that it your cost of experimentation is lower then analysis, the approach that is lowest cost in optimizing is different. When each computer batch run cost thousands of dollars and days of time, it was far more effective to spend more time ‘bench testing’ ideas. Sitting around and using human power to determine the best approach. But when a computer can now not only check your theory, but create a method to retest against different data (be it Texas visitor over Oregon visitor, or this months customers over last quarters customers), it is poor use of resources (especially human) to think about what the results are and ‘just do it’. Let the system or computer or software do the testing and provide the results.
The challenge will be not in saving the last CPU cycles to run one more test, but how to let our creative juices loose again to see how to continually improve the solutions we are trying to build. One of the big challenges for many in ‘corporate’ is to understand that website visitors are individuals. They need to as much as possible be treated as individuals. As we learn to look at our visitors has having different mindsets, often determined by factors we can identify, we will be able to create better experiences for our customers.
There is a whole other dimension of visitor privacy that enters into this, but I am not going to tackle that one today.
As usual, monetate’s solutions are an incredible toolset that lifts one burden from the ecommerce manager allowing a much larger responsibility to rise to the top – Looking at the world from the customer’s perspective. It was never not the top, but now there are a whole fewer number of excuses as to why we cannot focus on the customer’s view point.
One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly do the ‘who are you and why should I share my secrets’ dance. On the phone, it seems to take forever. In email it feels like you never get real trust and open communication. And websites always feel distorted from the reality of what really happens at a company.
At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I met Brian Gibbs of Refund Retriever. One of the many logistics services company looking to assist businesses in the ecommerce channel. As you may guess Refund Retriever audits your shipping bills with FedEx and UPS.
One of the takeaways for me at trade shows is learning what you should be concerned about in your business. If there is a business performing a function, there is a good chance it is an issue that should be looked at. If you are shipping and don’t know your costs, it seems logical that you are not paying attention to a major cost center. While UPS and FedEx have incredible world class IT systems, there are still incredible number of hands in the system that can make mistakes. The amount of speed means that mistakes can and do happen. That is OK is there a need to audit?
What does become clear is that all businesses need to spend at least a few minutes looking to see what if they could improve their shipping costs, or reduce their error rate, or improve on time delivery. All of these can be improved by improving correct addressing. So while not the core of Refund Retriever, it is an idea to consider. So here are the different ways Refund Retriever will look at your invoices:
- LATE DELIVERIES (GSR)
- BOGUS ADDRESS CORRECTIONS
- RESIDENTIAL vs. COMMERCIAL SURCHARGE MISTAKES
- INCORRECTLY WEIGHED PACKAGES
- UN-SHIPPED/UNINVOICED PACKAGES
- DUPLICATE INVOICES or CHARGES.
But there is also the question of auditing your bills in the 1st place. Most services do it on a split of the refund, so the cost to your business to keep UPS and FedEx ‘honest’ is not a cost to you but a savings. Typically the auditors will use your account information to review your information online to perform the audit. Refund Retrievers is different from other auditors in that they are more focused on the low hanging fruit of just these two vendors. As a result they are better able to work with smaller ecommerce concerns. There is no minimum, since their model uses a simple account set up. Other auditors have a lot more effort in getting set up for each company that affects overall price. I have not had a chance to use them yet, but will be curious to see how they actually perform. Additionally, they have helped me in understanding what I should be doing on my shipping auditing by who ever I use internally or externally to manage my customers satisfaction.
Another perspective to look at for every business, is how would a service affect the customer. In this case, I would suggest that for every error caught, to pass on the savings directly to the customer. Lets face it, you really did not loose anything, your customer did. I would send a gift and or a refund to every customer that did not end up with the excellent service you intended when you shipped your product. Even if the customer did not complain. It is a way to show your customer that you care about them, not their money and orders. When you care about your customers, they will be far more likely to care about you.
So what do you think, is there value in auditing your vendors to keep them on the straight and narrow?
One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly do the ‘who are you and why should I share my secrets’ dance. On the phone, it seems to take forever. In email it feels like you never have full partnership.
At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I was able to get past the dancing and have much more open conversations with vendors. Sure, we still have secrets. Sure we did not show all our cards. Sure there is still room for negotiations when we get to that point. But, we can start from an understanding of who we are, what we are looking for and how to work in partnership with each other.
Or not. I find a trade show is a great way to see if the message of the booth and the message of the literature and the message of those working the booth match – at least someone gets it. But more likely they are 20 times more likely to be who they say they are.
Global Response passed the test. They are a call center (and contact center) handling inbound and outbound. What I enjoyed in our conversation, was a willingness to share their stories, how they excelled, and where they were not a match. It is always a challenge to ask someone ‘what do you do well’ and the reply is ‘everything’. 1st they probably don’t even understand what excelling in an area is, and 2nd they probably don’t know how broad the industry is. Global did not take this route. They have a three of U.S. based call centers. Points for setting up their 2nd and 3rd one’s in an economically depressed area. But that has turned into a win-win – greater loyalty, happy staff with lower turnover (one of the greatest challenges of any call center) then normal.
Their clientele are a mix of non-profits and larger corporate clients. Their rates are not the lowest for domestic, but seem reasonable. They seem to have a good understanding of one of the keys to a call center relationship being successful – training of the trainer, and ongoing communications. Certainly working in the different modalities of a call/contact center is a challenge.
Different vendors will split on the philosophy of whether to have all modalities in one team or separate teams (phone, email, chat, social media). The challenge is do you train 3 or 4 teams on a product/service line with members that specialize in best practices of each modality? Or is the best way to have one team of superstars (hopefully) that need to learn all four modalities, and juggle appropriately? This becomes a nuanced discussion with a larger project/volume. But becomes very key for smaller contact center volume, where having multiple teams for low volume can really throw the numbers off. Global has chosen to go with modality teams (one for phone, one for email/chat) for each project.
Of course how you handle shared resources as an adjunct to this can help with the compromises in either choice (single team per client or single team per client and modality). Global Response seems like a good candidate for a RFP request for contact center where domestic service is appropriate.
I could go more into how to best choose a contact center, but I will let Global Response’s list be a fair starting point in this changing and flattening world where technology is changing the game economics quarter by quarter.
As a SaaS, they will verify your data as it comes in from forms (API call, XML return) or files:
- IP Address
- Score your leads
Like other solutions I talked to, pricing starts at a penny ($.01USD) per verification and goes down with quantity. The need for solving the age old problem of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) becomes more significant now that we can base entire campaigns and strategies based on data that may or may not be valid. Everything we can do to remove bad data from our warehouses is as important as removing the bad apples from our barrels. Our data warehouses can be corrupted by untrustworthy data just like our inventory warehouses can be corrupted by mice.
A cost effective solution that helps keep the bad data out of the warehouse in the 1st place can save us money for years to come. Imagine not mailing to a just 100 bad addresses for 5 years at 1.15 per catalog quarterly. Now imagine how your reputation will improve by not frustrating that bad address for 5 years and the other 3 people that tend to see each mailing and think your organization is inept. Imagine not calling that wrong number for years and bothering the wrong person.
But that is only looking at it from our perspective. From the users perspective, what if you can be helpful and let them know they made a mistake. Before the order is shipped to the wrong house. Before they never get the email you promised them. Before you are unable to call them back and they are waiting for your call. Before you disappoint them one more time and destroy the relationship before it ever gets started. Customers know you are tracking them. Most assume you have great skills to look into their credit card, because sites are tracking them around the Internet. If you don’t verify the simple stuff, how will they trust you with the important stuff (credit card number). Verification is coming (just as AMEX who bought Accertify), so start looking at the solutions now and planning or even start implementing.
These tools have great potential. Of course nothing is perfect, but the accuracy of your checker is key. I have not had a chance to test XVerify out yet, but I look forward to it and plan to report back when I can.
IRCE 2012 – BoldChat from LogMeIn (review from Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition tradeshow)
Another review from what I discovered at IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) tradeshow in Chicago, IL.
One of the more interesting solutions I found for eCommerce sites was from one of my favorite SaaS providers – LogMeIn. They have been providing great remote access for my remote support needs, as well as for many clients. LogMeIn is an easy solution to implement – a quick client based program, and you have the ability to access your (or your clients) computer from any current browser. It handles multiple monitors and has multiple layers of security. They have different levels of product from Free (really free) to enterprise.
LogMeIn has introduced BoldChat (they may well rename or at least redo the logo which looks like 3 different words) as a low cost chat solution, a midrange solution and an enterprise solution to go up against LivePerson.
The low cost option is Free – http://boldchat.com/free-live-chat-software.asp. Can’t beat that cost, the limitations seem to be reasonable. The biggest limitations are how many chats per month, and how many concurrent sessions are running. This is enough to get most small ecommerce sites up and going, allow them to build those FAQ answers, and design how to organize your resources for prompt response. By the time the number of chats (750 per month) is becomes limiting, the next level should be a no brainer for your organization to fund at less then a fast food lunch is these days.
The basic level is $99 per seat per year or $9 per month. So for less then a Vonnage account, or RingCentral or any other telephony solutions (well maybe Skype can be less) you have a great way to be able to have chat. Complete with a self documenting solution for building your business into a repeatable solution.
The enterprise level has more features, and does cost less then your typical rent for the desk space and share of a break room for your agent. This level will integrate into SalesForce.com, have predictive messaging, better integration across team members and more reporting. At the enterprise level the mindset is to work more collaboratively as a team across your chat team.
Chat is quickly becoming the expected norm in ecommerce to assist in providing excellent quality service to visitors who want to learn about your product. If you don’t provide enough service on the site, they will take there business elsewhere with the click of a mouse or often with a quick jump in the car. Chat is also an opportunity to see into the customers real needs and questions, rather then having to guess what they are looking for. This tools allows you to collect real questions (in the way real visitors ask them, not how you think they ask them), and allow you to sculpt your most appropriate answers for re-use.
If you are planning on having relationships with your clients and will be using the Internet, plan on experimenting and testing with chat as soon as possible. It’s useful not just in answering a few questions while juggling another voice call, but also in having a self documenting way to collect answers for your next agents, and sales team members. These can be collected and put into a FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions (a whole other post). That is one of the easier ways to implement the systems approach of Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited of working ON your business, rather then IN your business.
IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) is over for 2012.
To all who came to IRCE2012, THANKS for visiting Chicago, the local economy appreciated your visit. I appreciated your ideas and the opportunity for networking in my backyard.
Even after all these years in technology, it still amazes me to see how technology continues to move quickly in a few different directions. So while I will be highlighting some different companies I met or got reaquanted with in the near future here at SEODamian in future posts, let me share what I see were some major trends here from the show.
One of the big values I find in going to trade shows is the ability to compare and contrast different vendors in the same hour. The challenge with other solutions for comparing (trade journals, industry reviews, analyst reports) is that they often span data that makes comparisons irrelevant. They are X’s last quarter’s version compared to Y’s next quarter’s beta version. You still get the same issue at a tradeshow, but you can typically sniff out the game and get the real scoop on what the 2 companies are at today, and compare to 3 other similar solutions. Some of the key trends I saw in Internet retailing are:
- Prices are dropping. No big change there, except the rate they continue to drop. Typically not the same product at the same company, but by a new competitor creating most of the functionality of an existing solution and more for a lower price. Be it Chat and chat management (LivePerson look out, LogMeIn and others are looking to eat your lunch), survey tools, Addon’s to Magento (shopping cart platform), shipping auditing (no minimums needed here), affiiliate management, flash sales tools (keep it all in house or partner) and more.
- SaaS is the trend. The cost to distribute code to customers, and deal with your internal data center/stack complexities is too expensive for most tool creators. It is far easier for them to increase staff to keep 1 (or 2) data center up and going, then trying to guess how you (the customer) tried to make your data center secure and how you dealt with your specific legacy issues. The test bed is far easier to set up (if they are using AWS-Amazon Web Services, it is about 3 command lines to generate ‘another’ test bed). If you as a retailer can’t deal with SaaS or it’s API, look for adding at least one 0 (zero) to your cost in purchase price, and far more in TCO.
- Big data is here. Small startups need a credit card with a few dollars open on it to get a billion dollar data center (Amazon Web Services) to build ‘rock hard’ services. The cost of AWS is low enough that the ability to deal with incredible amounts of data in real-time changes what is being deployed as solutions. This shows up at the consumer level as presorted and pretargeted for their needs, not brood strokes. No longer is confirmation that a card number may be valid a real number good enough. It has to be validated that it belongs as a charge, not reported stolen and has the proper credit limit.
- The is no one stop shopping. The amount of tools to run a successful ecommerce site continues to grow. From the need to change pricing rapidly on one or all your SKU’s, to deploying across multiple channels (store, Amazon, eBay, Affiliate, traditional site, Facebook, ShopEngines) you need a collection of tools that is reminiscent of the stacks of apps in the 70’s and 80’s. The big difference, they are best not home developed, and often hosted in and out of house.
- Change is now often measured in weeks and months rather then years for software deployment. If you don’t like what you see today, what a quarter and redo your RFP (Request for Proposal). But monitor the products and community reaction in the meantime.
There was a lot more I saw, but 500 booths is hard to summarize in a few lines, so more to follow in the next posts.
While reading a discussion on using auto-responders for visitors to church congregation websites, I felt compelled to share my thoughts.
The ideas apply not only in email relationship building, but also in all online relationship building. The core is building trust.
As was stated, the concept of auto-responder email is good. It has been proven effective repeatedly in the for-profit world, because it can build trust. However, most implementation in secular and non-secular of auto-responders is terrible. Just as a greeter at a store can totally change the experience for the better or sink the relationship with the whole chain, so can poorly written email generic auto-responders. A poorly written email auto-responder can seem like a chain letter or worse.
There is a reason why communications professionals will write 50 drafts. They are working to get the best chance to communicate the intended tone and message to their audience. Just like a minister will often spend all day or all week writing a sermon to get it ‘correct’, and it still evolves through multiple services on a Sunday (or Friday or Saturday). Even the Bible has gone through a few revisions of the centuries to make sure its message and tone is unmistakable (perhaps it may not be done being revised to tell its story based on the number of interpretations of its messages in different denominations across the country and world).
More Recent Data – Direct Marketing
I would recommend that we look at what has a longer history then email auto-responders for how to most effectively communicate with new relationships. While still much newer then the Bible, direct marketing or direct mail has a much longer history then email. Direct marketing studies performed decades ago realized that it took seven (from letters, TV spots, Radio or in-store visits) ‘touches’ to get the optimum amount of interaction with a perspective person to solidify the relationship (relative to invested cost of each piece). New studies increase that to 9 or 11 touches with the increased onslaught of communications and greater sensitivity to building trust.
That is much of what is at issue here – trust. Does the new guest trust that you understand them? And do they trust they understand the ‘real’ congregation you represent? It becomes hard to trust that you understand someone who may not understand themselves (as may often be the case of shoppers/searchers). It becomes hard to trust, if they only meet a few people in a congregation. It becomes hard to trust if they don’t have a solid referral from someone they trust (especially if they are coming from a place that did have solid referrals and it did not work out). A congregation is where many people put more trust then most any other relationship they have (including family or spouses). Visitors may not know they are looking for a place to put that much trust, but often they are.
Have you earned that trust?
Look at how would you build trust with a new relationship in an off-line manner and consider how to translate it to written form. That may include some disclosure yourself and the congregation (when the annual meeting is, how the board is elected), but often not on the 1st touch. It may include offers to be inclusive, but just as you would not propose on the 1st date, you may not invite someone to lead a group in the 2nd email. The building of trust is based on a mutual exchange of signals that show commitment on both sides. If you don’t properly respond to a visitors signals you are being as rude as kissing someone who shows no interest in a physical relationship.
Of course in the age of digital tools like Constant Contact, iContact, HubSpot, InfusionSoft and many others, the best practice is to consider not creating a single one size fits all approach. Again the lessons and proof go back to the early days of direct marketing and have shown a segmented approach is best. Send a different series of letters to parents then young adults (possibly both if they are indeed young adult parents). The relationship of an empty nester will be different then many 30 year old divorcee’s.
If they overlap, consider staggering your send times. Don’t send them all on Mondays, send the parent letters/auto-responders on Wednesday, Young adults on Friday, etc.
Look at the rules of etiquette in similar online venues (online dating is probably the most clearly documented) and use them to create an appropriate method to build trust with new visitors and you will create many new relationships.
Auto-responders (multiple with proper spacing) can be a great tool in developing mutual trust in a new congregant, especially if it is integrated with personal touches along the way. Especially if it is show ing of the care you would take for a new parishioner. This is your chance to show you care. Does that not deserve a little more effort then 10 minutes for a one size fits all generic letter.
How much time and effort do you typically spend on your auto responder emails? How many do you use? Join the conversation below and share your wisdom.