Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page
In a recent post on her excellent blog, “Customers Rock!”, Becky Carroll told a tale of two experiences. The last paragraph of the post focused on how “Little Things” can make all the difference in a customer experience; a concept I have discussed here on several occasions. Becky said:
I heard an interesting quote on the radio today which sums this all up: “The little things aren’t a lot – they are everything.” Little things like looking a customer in the eye, greeting them, smiling, and carrying on a human conversation go a long way towards marketing a company/store as friendly and welcoming. And it is cheaper than all those advertisements, right?!
Right! So why is it that, generally speaking, the larger the retailer, the larger the spend on messaging and the smaller the spend on the human capital who interact directly with customers and can have the biggest impact on the experience?
In large retail chains, store and call center employees are usually viewed as expenses that must be closely managed. The experience that results from a focus on cost vs quality is often inconsistent and usually unremarkable (unless of course it’s really bad). Some companies recognize their experience problem and try to address it with training and/or initiatives to “change the culture”. But when you have turnover of 40 – 50%, the results of those initiatives quickly fade. The old adage “you get what you pay for” certainly holds up here.
Treat Me Like I Matter
Contrast this with the individual proprietor who’s competitive edge comes from their ability to deliver a more personalized experience. Finding and keeping quality employees who can deliver the same experience as the owner is the top priority. They don’t have the time or the budget to replace and retain employees every couple of months so they often pay a little better and treat the employees like family resulting in lower turnover. More importantly, the relationships those long-term employees build with customers over time are a big part of the loyalty equation.
Without long term employees interacting with customers every day, it’s very difficult for big retailers to build those personal relationships. They try to compensate with CRM systems and loyalty programs, but in the end, “personalized” marketing is not substitute for the personal touch.
Forrester Analyst and all-around smart guy Bruce Temkin commented on a CRM Daily article called “Customer Service’s Gap Between Intention and Reality”. He expanded on the article’s point by detailing six distinct gaps between intention and reality that companies need to pay attention to: If your company has customer service issues (and which one doesn’t), this is a great tool for identifying where those problems might lie.
A year and a half ago, Wal-Mart and marketing partner Edelman took a fair amount of heat from the social media and marketing communities for the fake blog “Wal-Marting Across America”. Another Wal-Mart blog, “Working Families for Wal-Mart” was also criticized as being nothing more than an extension of retail giant’s PR department. They were high visibility examples of the importance of Transparency.
Wal-Mart learned a valuable lesson from those failures: If you can’t be Authentic, you shouldn’t blog at all.
Despite the missteps, Wal-Mart seems to be committed to blogging. A NY Times story published today describes an active program in which various Wal-Mart merchandise managers (a.k.a buyers) are maintaining blogs. More importantly, the new corporate bloggers are openly encouraged to speak openly and honestly about their products and their lives, even it the result is not always complementary:
“Is it really all that and a bag of chips?” he wrote on his blog. “My life has not changed dramatically — well, for that matter, it hasn’t changed at all.”
His public burst of candor was not isolated. On the same blog, a video game buyer for Wal-Mart slammed a “Star Wars” film as a “debacle” even though Wal-Mart still sells the movie.”
This is really Wal-Mart? Yes, that was my reaction when I first read the article, but considering that Wal-Mart has always been a retail leader, it really isn’t all that surprising. I also think this signals an important change in the traditional corporate approach to blogs and expect others to follow.
Wal-Mart isn’t the first to have corporate blogs, but historically they have been highly polished, filtered, lawyer-approved messages, ostensibly from CEOs and top executives. What’s different about the Wal-Mart blog site, called Check Out (checkoutblog.com), is that it turns that traditional model on its head. Instead of channeling high-level executives, it is written by little-known buyers, largely without editing.
The result is a much more personal look into the lives, opinions and tastes of the people who decide what stuff you can buy at the nation’s largest retailer:
“We are real people, and that gets lost in the to and fro of business,” said Nick Agarwal, a Wal-Mart communications official who helped develop the blog. “It puts real personality out there in a real conversation.”
…and that after all is the whole point isn’t. Put a human face on your cold corporate exterior.
You should check out Check Out and then let me know what you think about it’s value.