Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Celebrating Income Tax Day

Ok, I’m being sarcastic; it’s nothing to celebrate—at least it wasn’t for me this year! But it is one of the certainties of life, and it’s interesting to see how firms in the industry are handling it.

I’ve written about Intuit before, so I retained a couple of articles from Peppers and Rogers 1 to 1 Weekly newsletter (not archived on their website as far as I can tell) over the past few months. In November 2008 they wrote about Intuit’s dissatisfaction with the rate of abandonment on their website. Their existing metrics gave no information about why visitors abandoned before they purchased. However, Intuit had a more basic problem, chronicled in the newsletter on February 09, 2009. When Brad Smith took over as CEO in 2006 he realized he didn’t understand the product line and that employees didn’t either. I love what he did:

So Smith put himself in the shoes of the customer and visited a retail store that sells Quickbooks. He stood in front of the shelves for 17 minutes and still chose the wrong version from the dozens offered. How would he ever know how to improve the product if he couldn't grasp how it was supposed to work?
Smith decided to bring in a small business owner and Quickbooks customer to spend a day in his shoes experiencing his pains with the product. The customer, a bike shop owner, volunteered and handed over all his invoices and paperwork to Smith and his team, who then holed themselves up for a day in a boardroom trying to figure out Casey's typical interaction with their product. The outcome was confusing and cumbersome. "At the end of eight hours and close to tears, our leadership team was very clear about what we needed to do," Smith says. (1 to 1 Weekly, 02/09/2009)

Solutions included simplifying the product line. The most sweeping solutions involved a “Quickbooks Challenge” based on the experience above for all new employees and throwing out a lot of the policies in the contact center that made it difficult to resolve customer problems. The most significant action appears to have been a program called True North that focuses on improving customer experience.

Bruce Tempkin recently wrote about the True North program on his customer experience blog with a link to a post on Net Promoter (measuring satisfaction by a single measure of likelihood of recommending the product). Bruce’s posts on a presentation by Brad Smith and the one that includes Net Promoter are highly informative. So is one by a Canadian blogger who got Intuit to admit that they made some mistakes in implementation. They keep working at it, however, and they seem to be getting a lot of things right. According to Tempkin, Brad Smith said in his presentation that 81% of sales are directly attributable to word of mouth. That represents both careful attention to the voice of their customers and really good metrics to be able to say that with assurance!

So it’s tax day; what are they doing with Turbo Tax. They have active customer support and a vibrant community of customers helping other customers. At least I’d call it “vibrant;” over 30 thousand questions on Schedule C for Personal Business (whatever that is!) looks vibrant to me!

On a broader scale, Intuit has employees Tweeting about a variety of topics. Take a look at their page on Twitter for a thoughtful approach to corporate strategy there. They are promoting the basic Intuit community; Intuit Labs, where they are getting customer input into product development; the new Intuit initiative in India; and other strategic corporate initiatives. Each one seems to be drawing its own group of followers, some small but all focused on a particular issue. Good job!

What I don’t see is a Twitter stream for tax preparers. Think about it; taxes are seasonal (thank goodness!). Who wants to follow that all year, as opposed to the Quick Books products, which businesses use for daily operations? The community on the site seems to work for users of Turbo Tax at tax time; I’ll bet it’s pretty quiet the rest of the year. The Twitter streams are ongoing conversations that provide important feedback to Intuit on specific products and issues.

That’s strategic use of social media!

Happy tax day!!

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