Q&A: Thomas Mueller, global director and practice leader of customer experience at Siegel+Gale

Thomas Mueller, global director and practice leader of customer experience at Siegel+Gale, discusses ways to engender loyalty.

Q: Why is simplicity so important and how do you incorporate it into your work?

A: In the last couple of years, simplicity has become a hot commodity. Everyone is chasing simplicity. We’re always searching for ways to take unnecessary steps out of the experience, to simplify the visual [and the verbal] processes. You can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Brands that are simple, honest and show respect have a higher chance of having more loyal customers who are more willing to refer the brand and spend more.

But in the end, we love complexity because it allows us to do the work we love to do.

Q: How has social changed the way marketers interact with customers?

A: For those of us who have been in the digital industry since the mid-90s, we’ve been through all the waves of hype. Just because social is big now, doesn’t mean that all businesses have to be about social. It’s a way to increase your reach, but it’s not a project you do and you’re done.

Q: Is the rise of e-commerce a kind of death knell for catalog shopping, or is it possible for them to coexist?

A: When a catalog is done right, it’s the ultimate expression of a simple customer experience. Look at the Google Catalogs product for iPad. They scanned all these catalogs and put them in a format that literally makes the page-leafing experience pleasurable, delightful and useful. You can indicate with little bookmark icons the items you like and the products are clickable to purchase. All of a sudden, the traditional catalog is a transitional medium that brings consumers directly to a site or specific product page.

Q: When it comes to e-commerce, which is more important: branding or selling?

A: You can’t prioritize one or the other. The ones who do it best create a perfect balance. Look at any of the Nike e-commerce aspects. It’s not an under-branded experience, but it’s still all about the sell. If you buy Nike shoes on Zappos.com, it’s the same Nike product, but it’s not the same as going to Nike.com to make the purchase. Branding cannot get in the way of customers being able to make a selection or a choice quickly, but at the same time the brand can’t overemphasize the sell.

Q: Some of the digital work you did as a design director at Razorfish in the 90s is housed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. What’s the story?

A: I was with Razorfish from 1995 through 2004. We had an interest in building the Razorfish firm in two ways: client-focused technology and creating an exploratory digital playground to figure out what the industry and the medium could be. One of the first projects Razorfish did was Rsub.com, which was our own content company that we used to try and see what was technologically possible in order to get more content in front of people in new ways. That whole universe of work is now part of SF MOMA’s permanent archive. It was the wild 90s then.

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