Archive for the ‘Customer Experience’ Tag

How to Poorly Represent for Your Brand in 140 Characters or Less

Today, I went to BestBuy with my 15 year old daughter to look for a digital camcorder.  She wanted something that did HD and we found an interesting model for $149.  I suggested that we go back home and read some customer reviews  before buying it (plus, she had neglected to bring her money).

She did her research and in doing so, discovered that the camcorder was on sale for $99 on BestBuy’s website.  I looked at the offer on the website to make sure it wasn’t a “web only” deal.  It wasn’t.  She started to order it online for in-store pickup but noticed that a photo id for the credit card holder would be required.  She doesn’t have an id yet, so we jumped in the car and headed to the store.

At checkout, the camcorder rang up at $149.  My daughter, who doesn’t like confrontation and doesn’t yet earn her own living, was more than happy to pay $149, but I was not.  Moreover, as a 23 year veteran of the Consumer Electronics industry and someone who was familiar with BestBuy’s issue a while back regarding web/in-store pricing, I wanted to be sure that they honored the online price.

I told the cashier that it was $99 on the website.   He started to point me to a makeshift kiosk that had been set up to allow customers to do on-line price checks, but then actually walked over to it himself and looked up the item on BestBuy’s website.  Sure enough it was still $99.  He did a price override and we completed the transaction.

BestBuy has received lots of praise for their innovative use of social media, both internally and externally.  As someone keenly interested in retailers’ use of social media, I naturally follow them on Twitter. I am also very much a Customer Experience aficionado, so when I got home, I started an exchange on Twitter with Best Buy’s Chief Marketing Officer, Barry Judge.

bestbuycmo exchangeAs you can see, Mr. Judge’s first reply challenged the idea that prices should be the same.  Now without taking a big detour into the intricacies of multi-channel pricing strategies, I’ll say that there are absolutely situations where prices can and should differ.  Between physical markets (and sometimes stores in the same market) prices can vary based on the competitive environment.  Between online and in-store for a chain like BestBuy, it gets a little more complicated.  They have to compete with on-line pure plays (e.g. Amazon), but not cannibalize their physical stores, especially if their strategy is to have the two channels compliment each other. In this case, given that it was not a web-exclusive offer and their own price guarantee says they will match BestBuy.com, I replied that they prices should be the same.  Otherwise, it can only lead to a bad customer experience like the frustration of finding that you should have received a lower price and having to drive back to the store for a refund.

I made a few other comments including pointing out that the cashier handled the situation well.  When I suggested that customers don’t care about the different “value propositions” that Mr. Judge had cited earlier; that what matters to the customer is the experience they have, the “tone” of the conversation shifted dramatically.

When I told him that I was well versed in multi-channel retail complexities, I was shocked by his reply.  Not wanting to assume a meaning, I asked him to clarify.  At that point he abruptly ended the conversation.

Of course, that didn’t end the conversation.  I posted a link to the exchange on Twitter and asked for people’s opinions and the replies and retweets have been coming at a steady pace.  It used to be that if you shared a bad experience, 100 people would hear about it.  In the world of social media, those numbers can increase exponentially (ask United Airlines).  With that being one of the fundamental facts for companies to understand about social media, I was really surprised that the Chief Marketing Officer for BestBuy would engage with a customer former customer in this way.

What do you think?  Was I being out of line?  How could this conversation gone differently?

Seeing the Customer Clearly Through All Channels

virgin_america_logo

Today’s post was inspired by a series of interactions I had with VirginAmerica this week .  Two lessons to be learned….

In one week, the family is headed to Southern California for a vacation.  Although not as convenient and more expensive than flying out of Richmond, we decided (after standing up to considerable pressure from our daughter) to fly VirginAmerica from DC.  Don’t tell her, but I’m looking forward to the experience.

Like all airlines, VirginAmerica has a rewards program.  Theirs is called Elevate.  Prior to purchasing our tickets in January, I joined the Elevate program.  This past week, I received the following email from VirginAmerica:

Douglas,

You joined Elevate but have not flown us. That just won’t do. We want you to come and see what you’ve been missing, so here’s a special offer just for you – 30% off our lowest advertised fare on your flight with Virgin America.

Now I love a good deal and this clearly is one, but there’s a big problem here.  You see, I already bought tickets to fly with them, and I might add, didn’t get the 30% discount, so why doesn’t their Marketing department know that???  Companies that deliver a truly exceptional customer experience, do so consistently at every touchpoint. My expectations for VirginAmerica have been set high based on feedback from other customers and  their advertising.  That e-mail sent the message that they aren’t aware I’ve already booked flights.  That is not what I would expect from a company focused on a great customer experience.

Lesson #1: Take advantage of the rich customer information you have at every touchpoint.  Don’t send a solicitation that says “Hey, when are you going to buy my stuff” if I already have!

.

Twitter to the Rescue

Many companies have established a presence on Facebook and Twitter, but the ones that approach those communities as listeners and facilitators are the ones demonstrating that they get it.  VirginAmerica  (@VirginAmerica on Twitter) is one who gets it.  This morning, I mentioned my frustration about the email experience in at “tweet” to Nick Schwartz, the guy behind the VirginAmerica Twitter presence.  The response was almost immediate.  He gave me his email address and asked me to send a note telling my story (in more than 140 characters), which I did.  To be clear, I was not asking for nor did I have any expectations that my email would result in a fare reduction or other adjustment.  I simply wanted to communicate an opportunity to inprove the customer experience.  Nick passed my email up the chain and within an hour I got a reply from VirginAmerica Guest Care indicating they had forwarded my concerns to the marketing department.

I love the immediacy of being able to tap a company on the shoulder and start a conversation with out having to go to their place (i.e. website, 800#).

Lesson #2: If your company is participating in Social Media channels, take a lead from companies like VirginAmerica.  Listen and Help first.  The value that you deliver by doing that helps to strengthen your brand over time.

Five in the Morning

number-fiveA few months back, Steve “aggregator-in-chief” Woodruff started a daily blog series called “Five in the Morning”.  Through the series, Steve shares recent posts and news items from his feed reader that he finds interesting.  Wednesday night, Steve and I got together to talk shop and to enjoy some award-winning, Bobby Flay-slaying BBQ ribs. Somewhere between the 13th and 17th napkin,  Steve mentioned that he wanted to franchise the Five in the Morning series to cast a wider net around the great content available out there.  When he asked if I wanted to give it a shot this week, I said sure.

So without further adieu, here are five posts that I think you’ll find interesting….

  • Forrester’s Bruce Temkin discusses the just released 2008 Customer Experience Index.  As usual, industries with the least amount of competition clock in with the lowest customer experience scores.  That includes Comcast whose overall index dropped a whopping 12 points since last year despite its ComcastCares efforts. Also, the post includes a link where you can download the complete Forrester report for free.
  • The guys over at MyCreativeTeam explain why an old burglar with a reindeer fetish has such a strong brand.
  • Social media consultant Matt J McDonald tells us that “Blogging is hard work” plus 15 other Simple Social Media Truths.  By the way, some believe Matt and American Idol David Cook were Separated at Birth (Go ahead, click the link.  You know you want to).
  • Crayonista Adam Broitman outlines three creative interactive marketing strategies that invoke consumers to talk to other consumers about brands, with minimal interference from the brand itself.  Note: the post starts on Adam’s blog but continues at iMediaConnection.
  • Last but not least, Amber Naslund picks up on posts from a few other bloggers and makes a great case for looking at old tools through new lenses.

The only important thing is…..

“The only important thing is that we make the children happy”.  It’s one of the most memorable lines from the 1947 classic, “Miracle on 34th Street”.  Replace “children” with “customers”, it is also an idea that has unfortunately faded from the fabric of American retail.  In the film, the Macy’s Store Santa makes that important point to an incredulous mom after telling her that she could get the fire engine her son wanted at a competitor.  Mom couldn’t believe that Macy’s would send customers to another store.

Fast forward to today and imagine Macy’s or just about any other retailer helping a customer find the thing they are looking for by pointing to a competitor.  It might occasionally happen, but it’s certainly not Standard Operating Procedure.  To do so would reflect badly on the store’s merchants and send business to the enemy, right?  The retail would much rather send a customer away unhappy than send them to a competitor.  But perhaps the retailer’s perspective is different from the customer’s?  Perhaps in the customer’s eyes, helping them find what they were looking for, at a competitor no less,  was an unexpected “surprise and delight“.  Might that not earn a few loyalty points?

A few years ago, a major consumer electronics retailer was testing various innovation ideas in the Boston area.  One of those ideas was to place a “concierge” near the store entrance with the objective of improving close rate.  The job had two roles:

  1. Greet people coming in and direct them to destinations in the store.  This wasn’t just directing customer to “go to Aisle 5”.  The concierge was trained to engage the customer to learn why they had come to the store.  If  “assisted selling” was involved (e.g. HDTVs, digital services), they would escort the customer to that part of the store and introduce them to a salesperson.
  2. Engage people on the way out.  If they had made a purchase, thank them.  If not, ask to assist in locating the item.  The concierge desk had a couple of internet terminals and the concierge would help the customer find the product they wanted on the retailer’s website.  They were also instructed to help the customer search for other retailers who might carry the product if they didn’t carry it!

The concierge idea was only tested for couple of months and in that time, the close rate improved, but not enough to offset the cost of the position.  With that being the company’s determining success metric, the idea wass killed.  The test also included a survey of customers to get their feedback on the experience and the results were impressive.  Roughly 85% of the 1200 customers surveyed felt that the concierge improved their shopping experience and, more importantly, The same percentage said they were likely to recommend the retailer to friends based on their interaction with the concierge.

While the test did not generate the targeted close rate numbers during the 60 days it was operational, customers really liked it.  If the company had run the test for 6 months or a year, would the close rate improved?  Who knows, but I’d argue that the improved customer experience in those stores would have resulted in higher traffic over time and that’s every bit as important as close rate.

So why are retailers so focused on the transaction and not the experience?  Because it’s the fastest thing they can measure.  Unfortunately, a change in the experience may not lead to improved business in a 60 day time frame and most retailers don’t have the patience or the confidence to invest in an improved experience for the long haul.   Paradoxically, failure to make customer experience improvements may prove to be the downfall of a many retailers in the next few years.

Are You Focused on the Transaction or the Experience (part 1)

With the economic downturn taking a toll on retailers one has to wonder what is going the be the differentiating factor for the survivors.  With people spending less across all retail channels, I heard a pundit on a financial network say last week that retailers were going to focus on taking market share away from competitors.  That sound good on paper but how exactly does one do that.

The vast majority of retailers will be going for the wallet with margin-crushing discounts and deals.  While this may be good for customers (clearly a buyer’s market), it will not be sustainable unless you are a retailer with deep pockets and those are few and far between.  The other approach would be for a retailer to leverage their experiential benefits.  Unfortunately, this approach is not something you can just whip up in time for the holidays.  If you have not been growing your customer base through great experiences, you are not going to be able to take this approach this time around.  That said, you may want to consider making changes now.

In retail, the experience your customers receive is a reflection of your organization’s culture.  An open culture that encourages, rewards and acts upon bottom-up and outside-in feedback is one that fosters engagement at all levels.  Engagement with the organization by your customer-facing people leads to engagement with the customer and that lays the groundwork for delivering great experiences.

I don’t mean to over simplify the idea of an open culture.  If your organization isn’t structured this way, you can simply mandate it.  Getting there requires real leadership, considerable effort and a willingness and ability to dedicate resources to the goal.

As the title suggests, I’m planning a series of posts on this topic.  In my next post, I’ll offer some suggestions on how to build an Open Culture and how to leverage it once you get there.

Not Expecting Great Things at Kohls

I’m a frustrated customer.  I drove to a local Kohl’s store today to purchase the Men’s Nike Air Tri-D II running shoes that they advertised in their 10/1 – 10/11 sale catalog.  The shoe department at that store was a disaster.  There were very few men’s athletic shoes on display and the shelves were in disarray.  The shoe I wanted and that they had gone to the expense of advertising, was not even on display.  I asked someone to check stock and the answer came back that they only had a size 8-1/2 in the back room.

Years ago, retailers used to practice a fraudulent tactic called “Bait & Switch” in which a desirable item was advertised at an attractive price, but in reality, there was little or no inventory to support the offer.  When the customer arrived at the store to purchase the item, they would be offered an alternative item which often provided the retailer with higher margin.  There are Federal Trade Commission laws that make that practice illegal.  If a retailer knowingly advertises a product that has limited availability, they have to say so in the ad (“quantities limited”). I understand that sometimes operational issues come up which can result in advertised products not being available and I’m assuming that is what happened in this case.  Nevertheless, it was a frustrating waste of an hour of my time.

Multichannel Retailing to the Rescue (or NOT!)

I wanted the shoes to take on a trip this week, but settled for ordering them on Kohls.com so I could take advantage of the additional discount offered to Kohl’s Charge customers.  A search of the site took me right to the shoe, but when I went to put it in my cart I saw that it was only available in sizes (wait for it….) 8 and 8-1/2!

I could understand a single store in a 1000 store chain not having a particular advertised item, but to not have enough product available through a national website is a big problem.  Kohl’s Merchandising team has to know about this.  Any merchant responsible for a line of products checks to be sure they have sufficient stock chain-wide before advertising something.  In this situation a good approach would have been to put a note on the product detail page acknowledging the shortage of inventory and apologizing for the inconvenience.

This is a great example of a really bad customer experience.  Kohl’s tells me to “Expect Great Things”, but based on interactions in two different channels (web and store), I “expect” that I won’t be shopping at Kohl’s in the future.

On-Line Banking Experience – FAIL!

In my last post, I talked about a local grocery store chain’s customer experience.  One of their innovations was partnering with National Commerce Financial Corporation in which it co-owns 35 First Market Bank branches.  Ironically, this post discusses an on-line banking experience with First Market Bank.

Yesterday, I tried to access my accounts with First Market Bank to pay a few bills.  I was able to get to the home page, but when I selected the link to sign in to my account, I got nothing.  The site eventually returned a page load error.  Frustrating, but since I had a hundred other things to do, I moved on.

This morning, I went back to the First Market Bank site to access my account only to find that the problem had not been fixed.  There was no message on the homepage regarding the problem, so I called the Internet Banking support line.  The CSR apologized and informed me that “the site was down for maintenance”.

Having an IT background, I translated that to “something has gone terribly wrong with the software and the IT support team is having a hard time fixing it”.  OK, I understand these things happen, but while the support team is busy wrestling with the problem, it’s critical that you let you customers know what’s going on.

At a minimum, the home page should be updated with a message that acknowledges the problem and provides direction for customers who need to transact business.  If, for some reason, the home page can’t be updated, the account access link should be redirected to a page with the message.  Now that the site has been down for more than 24 hours, they might want to consider sending an e-mail to their customers explaining the situation. These are simple things to do, but instead, I’m willing to bet that their call center is handling a unusually high number of calls, which in turn impacts the level of service provide through that channel.

If you walk into a store that’s in the process of remodeling, you usually see a “Pardon our Mess” sign.  If you’re web business is dealing with technical problems that impact the customer experience, put up a sign to let your customers know.

Update (9/24 6:30pm):  First Market Bank still not working, but they did put up a sign:

“First Market Bank is experiencing some technical difficulties which could impact some of our customers’ ability to access Online Banking. We are currently addressing the issue and should have it resolved shortly. Thank you for your patience.”

Thank You!

Winning Against the Big Guys: Ukrops

Ukrop’s is a 28 store, family-owned grocery chain based in Richmond, VA.  All of their stores are located in central Virginia, mostly in Richmond, so you’ve probably not ever heard of them.  That’s too bad because Ukrop’s is a very unique retailer.  Over the last four decades, Ukrop’s has steadily grown to dominate the central VA grocery marketplace, competing easily against much larger regional and national chains.  Instead of taking the “lowest price” approach, Ukrop’s has always focused on delivering a great customer experience.  Ever since Joe Ukrop opened the first store in 1937, the operating philosophy has always been “treat customers, associates and suppliers as they personally want to be treated.” That attention to the customer experience coupled with a history of innovation and community engagement has built incredibly strong brand loyalty.  In this post, I’m going to share some of things Ukrop’s has done to build their brand.

Customer Focus Differentiators

Ukrop’s does things for their customers that I’ve never seen at any other grocery chain.  They’re little things, but as I’ve said before, it’s the little things that differentiate you from your competition.  Things like:

  • Ukrop’s employees carry your groceries out to your car and load them for you.  By the way, don’t bother tipping them.  They won’t accept it.
  • If you get to the checkout counter and realize you have forgotten your wallet, don’t worry.  In most cases, Ukrop’s says to take the groceries and pay them next time you come in.
  • Ukrop’s provides in-store “Tot Spots” in their larger stores.  Parents can leave their child at the “Tot Spot” while they shop.
  • Ukrop’s listens and responds to individual customers.  Each store has a Customer Requests board prominently displayed at the front of each store.  Have feedback or want the store to carry a new product?  Simply write down your request and put it up on the board using a refrigerator magnet.  Each note is read and replied to within a week.  The next time you come into the store, check the board for your note and the reply.  I once asked for a specific flavor of ice cream.  The product was in the freezer the very next week.

Marketplace Innovator

Ukrop’s has a history of grocery industry innovations that have allowed them to differentiate their brand.

  • Like most Americans, you probably carry around some kind of supermarket discount card, but I bet you didn’t know that the very first supermarket card program in the US was launched in 1985 at Ukrop’s as part of a Citicorp Point-of-Sale initiative.  Ukrop’s saw huge potential in being able to identify their customers by name and understanding purchase behavior of it’s best customers.
  • Research conducted during the mid-1980s revealed that changing consumer demographics and lifestyles indicated a growing demand for convenient, restaurant-quality food. Demonstrating their “sense and respond” competency, Ukrop’s decided to tap into the demand and further differentiate themselves from competitors. The result was one of the grocery industry’s most lauded success stories of the late 20th century.  Ukrop’s already had experience with a central bakery, having purchased a well known local bakery to supply bakery items to to their stores.  The bakery gave them some experience with manufacturing and logistics.  Leveraging that experience, Ukrop’s decided to create a 10,000 sq-ft “central kitchen” to package chilled prepared food, which consumers could then re-heat.  On Halloween 1989, the company’s prepared foods line debuted, featuring ten items that included twice-baked potatoes, lasagna, and macaroni and cheese. By 1994, the roster of prepared foods had swelled to a rotating list of 125 items. Ukrop’s foray into prepared foods became the talk of the industry, accounting for nearly 15 percent of the chain’s total sales and adding further incentive to shop at Ukrop’s.
  • Don’t feel like cooking? Ukrop’s added an in-store grill to their larger stores in the late 1990’s.  The grill serves everything from sandwiches to stir fried Asian dishes to steaks.  Of course, the ingredients for all the menu items are available in the store.
  • Ukrops’ latest innovation is a partnership with a local gas station operator called Fuelperks.  Capitalizing on the concern over rapidly rising gasoline prices, the program rewards Valued Customer Cardholders with a 10 cent per gallon discount (up to 20 gallons) for every $50 spent.

The Other Bottom Line

Ukrop’s is perhaps best known for their community involvement.  Each year they commit to giving at least 10% of their pretax profits back to the communities they serve. They sponsor many local events including the Monument Avenue 10K and the upcoming Richmond Folk Festival, but perhaps their biggest community program is the Golden Gift.  Started in 1987, the program allows customers to designate a local non-profit organization.  It might me a charity or perhaps your kid’s school. Each year, Ukrop’s allocates an amount to the Golden Gift fund.  This year it was $400,000.  During February and March, Ukrop’s awards each customer with a Golden Gift point for each dollar spent.  At the end of March, the fund is allocated to the customer’s designee based on points accumulated.  The customer then receives a certificate that they can give to their non-profit which can bee redeemed for cash.  Since inception, the program has given back $11.6 million!

These are just a few of the many things that have helps build the Ukrop’s brand.  By putting customers and community first and through innovative ideas that have redefined the grocery store, they have been able to stand the test of time.

Do you own or work for a local or regional retailer?  Having a hard time competing against the big guys?  Perhaps you can take some lessons from Ukrop’s.

Companies Without Conversation: Comcast Gets Twitter; Circuit City Does Not

Comcast and Circuit City have many things in common.

Both companies sell products and services that deliver video and internet to American consumers.  They also share the dubious distinction of consistently scoring near the bottom of their respective industries in the American Consumer Satisfaction Index surveys (see here & here).

With limited competition, Comcast’s dismal rating doesn’t pose as great a risk to their future profitability as does Circuit City’s score, which is clearly reflected in their ever sinking stock price.  Over the last few years, Circuit City has not executed well at meeting customer expectations.  As a result, they have lost a big chunk of their base and aren’t attracting new customers as fast as the old ones are leaving.  Consumer Electronics retail is a commodity industry and customers can buy their CE products just about anywhere. Bringing customers back to Circuit City should be the company’s top priority.  Doing so will require a number of things, but consistently meeting or exceeding customer’s expectations would be a good place to start.

Another good place to start might be engaging with customers within their Social Media channels to better understand where the experience breaks down, and to offer unexpected support for problem resolution.  Interestingly, both companies are also getting involved with Social Media.  Circuit City maintains a blog on its website and both companies have started using Twitter; however, the ways in which they are using it couldn’t be farther apart.

Comcast has been receiving a significant amount of positive press from their use of Twitter. Frank Eliason, Comcast’s digital care manager and the man behind the Twitter account, comcastcares, tells me their   Twitter program started back in March ’08.  Using a number of monitoring tools, Frank and his small team listen to the stream of “Tweets” coming from Twitter looking for comments about Comcast.  When they encounter one, they immediately reply to the person who made the comment, usually asking if they can help.  As of this writing, comcastcares has made over 10,000 updates and has over 2700 followers.  They operate comcastcares like some kind of proactive help desk, contacting customers who have publicly shared that they are having a problem.

Think about that for a minute.

A company that is actively trying to address every complaint made about it on Twitter.  Every problem solved here equates to a customer whose expectations have been exceeded.  Those customers will are going to tell others about their great experience.  More importantly, by listening to its customers, Comcast is learning about the things that are getting in the way of a great customer experience.  It’s a feedback loop that can be used to drive improvements into their operational programs.

Circuit City on the other hand doesn’t seem to understand the basic concept here.  They established their Twitter account, Circuit_City, about the same time as Comcast, but roughly six months later, they haven’t even broken triple digits in Updates. Circuit City isn’t using Twitter to listen for and help frustrated customers or to find opportunities for improvement in their operational procedures.  Instead, they are treating Twitter (and their CityCenter blog) like any another advertising channel.  There is no conversation, just one-way messaging.  There is no “How Can I Help You?”, there’s just “Here’s some more stuff that you should buy”.   Most of the tweets are links to posts on their blog which is focused on products that Circuit City sells.

One could argue that Circuit City does not have as many detractors as Comcast, but there are clearly opportunities out there.

Earlier this week, I saw a Twitter user contemplating going to Circuit City to purchase a wireless card (see the accompanying Twitter thread).  When he tweeted “Circuit City sucks!  Why are they still in business?“, it would have been a great time for Circuit’s Twitter team to step in and try to salvage this experience.

Unfortunately, Circuit City isn’t listening, they are just talking.  Business as usual.

Thank You Customers

There is a small, award-winning burger franchise call Five Guys Burgers & Fries. Their menu consists of basically four things: burgers, fries, hot dogs and soft drinks. No breakfast, no salads, no chicken and no wait staff. Their products don’t have names like “Whopper” or “Big Mac”. They’re call “hamburger” and “bacon cheeseburger”. Everything is cooked to order so it’s fresh and hot and the team behind the counter operate like a well-oiled machine with a clear focus on delivering a great product. They know that you come in hungry so while you are waiting for your meal, they have cases of roasted peanuts to crack open and munch on.

I went to Five Guys tonight to pick up dinner for the family. While I was chowing down on peanuts by the cash register, one of the employees was sweeping the area of spent shells. As she approached me, I started to move away to give her room, but she stopped me and said, ” You stay right there. You’re the customer”. So I did for a minute, but then moved over to the pickup counter. That’s when I saw this sign:

As customers, we interact with lots of organizations every day. Some of those experiences are bad and most are unremarkable, but occasionally you have a really great experience. I suspect that the organizations that really deliver have at their foundation, something like this baked into their cultural DNA.

Organizations can make all kinds of operational adjustments in the quest to deliver a better experience, but without a culture that gets this simple idea, they will not succeed.

What do you think? Think about some of your best customer experiences. Do those organizations get it?

Study:Majority Use Social Media to ‘Vent’ About Customer Care. Are You Listening?

An recent study commissioned by a Burlington, MA-based provider of voice-recognition solutions found that 72 percent of respondents used social media to research a company’s reputation for customer care before making a purchase, and 74 percent choose to do business with companies based on the customer care experiences shared by others online. The online study of 300 volunteer respondents doesn’t qualify as statistically accurate, but it is informative from a directional standpoint.

59 percent of the respondents said they regularly use social media to “vent” about their customer care frustrations. Readers of this blog know that I occasionallyventhere and so do many others that I follow. Michael Arrington’s recent Comcast experience is a high-profile example which has received a fair amount of discussion in social media circles. If you haven’t heard the story, ends up with an executive at Comcast contacting Arrington because of a Twitter post that he had made about how frustrated he was with Comcast.

Two thirds of the study’s respondents felt that companies don’t take online complaints seriously. Think about that for a minute. Empowered by the powerful online search capabilities, customers have grown accustomed to instant access to information and have developed increasingly high standards for customer service. They no longer need to be tied to a company. Add in Social Media, where the customer has a global voice and you now have citizen marketers who can potentially impact a company’s reputation for good or bad.

Nick O’Neill over at Social Times recently asked if a large brand like Walmart could monitor all the comments made about them on Twitter and contact people that had a poor experience in their store. After measuring the volume of Tweets pertaining to Walmart at around one every half hour, O’Neill suggested that the answer is Yes. Of course, companies are skeptical about the need to participate in social media. How much of a difference will reaching out to a couple dozen irritated customers a day (most of whom are nowhere as influential as Arrington) make? I would have to say that today it’s probably not as impactful as many of us in the Social Media Echo Chamber would like to believe.

On the other hand, intercepting and satisfying a pissed-off Michael Arrington can go a long way in preventing a social media comment from escalating into a much larger public relations issue. Moreover, as Millennials. for whom social media is a typically a natural extension of their lives, move from consumers to customers, it’s going to become increasingly important for companies to be listening and engaging in these channels. These customers aren’t going to be letter-writers like their parents were. They are going to be vocal about their experiences, expectations and frustrations as customers publicly and on-line. Companies who learn to listen and engage now (and I don’t mean using Social Media as another one-way marketing vehicle) will be better positioned to compete for these new customers in the future

<via ClickZ>

50 Ways to Improve Your Customer’s Experience

Doug Fleener over at Retail Contrarian has reposted his list of 50 ways to be more customer focused. Take a look and see how many you and your team do on a regular basis:

1. Open the door for your customer whenever possible. This is especially important if her hands are full.

2. Don’t just hand your customer his product, “present” it to him.

3. Keep the store temperature at a setting that is comfortable for customers. Most retailers set the thermostat at what’s comfortable for the employees.

4. Acknowledge your customer’s children.

5. Offer to gift-wrap purchases if you already know it is a gift. Don’t wait for your customer to ask.

6. Always suggest accessories and other items that will enhance a customer’s purchase and his/her life.

7. Offer to carry your customer’s purchase, however big or small, to her car.

8. Send handwritten thank-you notes. Come on, do you really do it?

9. Smile.

10. Introduce yourself to your customer.

11. Ask your customer her name. Use it.

12. Compliment your customer on his purchases. This is especially effective if he is another staff member’s customer.

13. Don’t give your customer too many choices. You’re the experts, so recommend a product based on what you learn from him/her.

14. Tell her why a product isn’t right for her.

15. If you can’t fulfill a customer’s need, suggest another company that may be able to do so.

16. Never ever say something negative about another company.

17. Act just as happy to see a customer with a return as you are one who walks into make a purchase.

18. Make it easy for customers with returns. Almost all customers are honest and should be treated as such. If you have to give a customer a refund, end the conversation with “I’m sorry this product didn’t meet your needs but we will welcome the chance to serve you again.”

19. Warmly welcome every customer who comes into your store.

20. Loan umbrellas on rainy days for customers to get to their cars. Ask them to either drive up to the sidewalk where you are waiting to receive the umbrella back or to bring it back on the next visit. Most customers will turn you down but you score major points for offering.

21. Don’t interrupt the customer to talk. Talk – listen – talk – listen. You get the idea.

22. Do whatever you can – within reason – to keep an unhappy customer. What you’ll lose on the one transaction you’ll make it back because he will tell his friends and family how wonderful you are.

23. Refrain from visiting with a colleague when he/she is with a customer. It’s distracting to both the customer and the colleague.

24. Never rush customers out at closing time. Gently let them know that you’ll be closing in a few minutes. Never flash the lights or sound the air horn. (I’m joking.)

25. Offer to teach your customer how use the products. Clothing and home goods retailers might show their customers how to accessorize the items he/she have already selected.

26. Never blame the company for a policy or decision. You are the company.

27. When a customer says “Thank you,” say “You’re welcome.”

28. Add “It’s my pleasure” after you say “You’re welcome.”

29. Provide written details of frequently asked questions.

30. Don’t coach or reprimand an employee or colleague in a customer’s presence.

31. If you’re on the phone with a customer and you absolutely must put him on hold, tell him approximately how long he will have to wait.

32. Don’t interrupt an employee with a customer unless it’s extremely important.

33. Create a children’s craft area in your store so the kids can create art while their parents shop.

34. Give your customer your undivided attention when she is talking. Everything else can wait.

35. Accept responsibility when the store has made a mistake. Too err is human. To not admit it is stupid.

36. Empathize with upset customers. Say you’re sorry.

37. Offer free drinks to your customer.

38. Give a gift for no reason. Even better, give a gift for being such a great customer.

39. Have the owner or manager personally call a high-ticket customer and thank her for her purchase if the sale was made by another staff member.

40. Loan books and other resources at no charge. This positions you as an expert and creates repeat traffic.

41. Ship a replacement to a customer with a defective product before you receive the original back.

42. Open the doors early when customers are waiting outside.

43. Provide seating for customers and offer to bring them product to look at.

44. If you’re busy and a customer is waiting for help, give him an estimate of how long he’ll have to wait for someone to help him.

45. Stop cleaning and doing busy work when customers are in the store. They’re less likely to ask for help if you’re doing other things.

46. Partner with restaurants and other stores to present exclusive discounts and offers to your customers. (A win-win-win. The other company gets incremental revenue, your customer saves money, and you’re the nice person doing it for both of them.)

47. No checking email or text messages on your phone when customers are in the store. It makes you look bored and nobody wants to shop in a boring store.

48. If you have to walk away from your customer to go to the backroom or counter tell her what you are doing.

49. Always offer to contact your customer when a product she wants comes in. Never tell her to call and check.

50. Always thank as many customers as you can for coming into your store and invite them back.

51. Always go above and beyond for every customer.

You can download the 50 Ways to Improve Your Customer’s Experience article that’s formated as a handout from Doug & Matt’s website .

(Image courtesy of Becky Carroll)

Bad Experience Salvaged

zm_fdxknks.jpgTomorrow morning, I head to New York City for Blogger Social ’08. A few months ago, I told the organizers, CK and Drew, that I would be happy to help them with some of the duties and was assigned the task of being in charge of event photography. We’re going be capturing images from all of the planned events, but also want have the “Socialites” capture pictures as they travel around the city for the many “meetups” that are being organized. Last week, we decided to print up little posters that feature the Blogger Social badge and give them to all the attendees so they can create some promotional shots around the city (hey, they’re marketers).

On Sunday, I went to my local FedEx-Kinkos and shipped the posters to CK in NYC. They were supposed to arrive on Tuesday according to the clerk at my local store, but they didn’t. Checking the website, I saw that I dropped them off after the Sunday pickup. (Strike 1).

On both Wednesday and Thursday, FedEx failed to deliver the package (recipient not home) even though I had specifically indicated on the shipment that signature was not required. I spoke to a Customer Service Agent on Wednesday evening who even placed a message into their system specifically instructing the driver to leave the package. (Strike 2).

When it Absolutely, Positively Has to Get There?

The posters absolutely, positively had to be there for tomorrow’s first event and I could not risk FedEx not leaving them again tomorrow, so I called the customer service line again to find out what happened and to find some resolution. The Customer Service Agent was pleasant, but unable to reach anyone at the depot to see about sending the package back out today. She did speak to a dispatcher who said it would be sent out again tomorrow. I complained that that would not be acceptable and was escalated to “Kelly”, a FedEx “Customer Advocate”. Kelly was very understanding and asked me to hold while she contacted the depot. When she subsequently connected me with “Cosmo” at the depot and dropped off the call, I assumed that she had already worked out a solution. I was very much surprised when Cosmo asked me how he could help and, after I explained the problem for the third time, was told that there was no one available to deliver the package until tomorrow. So much for having a “Customer Advocate”. (Strike 3, you’re out!).

We’re FedEx-Kinkos, but We’re Really Not

At this point I had no choice but to go to a local printer (UPS Store or Kinkos???) and get the posters reprinted and carry them with me to New York. I had done the originals at home, but I work out of town. To have them redone at a local printer was going to cost some money. Given their total ineptitude, I felt it only fair that Fedex-Kinkos pick up the tab. I called the Customer Service line again and managed to get back in touch with Kelly. She greeted me with “I guess Cosmo was not able to help?” to which I not so calmly affirmed “NO”. I then told kelly that I was going to go to a local FedEx-Kinkos to have the posters reprinted at their expense and I wanted to know how that would be arranged. That’s when Kelly informed me that they had no way to do that because the FedEx organization is separate from the Kinkos organization. It was at this point that I just about lost it. I told Kelly that I could care less about their internal organizational barriers. I shipped the package at a FedEx-Kinkos store and from the customer’s perspective, they were the same organization and needed to solve this problem.

Bridging Barriers

Kelly was then able to establish a conference call with someone from Kinko’s corporate office and I explained the problem once again. This time, Kelly remained on the line while  the Kinko’s person explained that there was no way to credit me for the cost of the posters since they were not originally printed at Kinkos (I don’t think they really understood the problem).  When I said that was unacceptable, she offered that I could take it up with the local store, but that it would be up to the discretion of the local Kinkos manager to reprint the posters at no charge. After some more discussion and insistence, Kelly instructed me to go to the store and then have the manager call her.

At the Huntersville, NC store, I met Adam, the store manager, explained the problem (again) and put him in touch with Kelly.  After a few minutes on the phone, he hung up and went to work printing my posters.

Bad Experience Salvaged, but Still Bad

So FedEx-Kinkos was able to salvage the problem, but only after significant effort on my part. Clearly, they have some significant Customer Experience opportunities:

  1. The don’t have documented processes for dealing with Customer Experience problems like this.
  2. Their operational systems and procedures are ineffective (messages not received or read, customer’s instructions not followed).
  3. They operate as independent companies despite marketing themselves and an integrated organization. Those barriers need to be broken down when the get in the way of delivering a great experience.

It’s the Little Things, Part 3

handshake-recruiting-sepia.jpgIn 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.

Temkin: The 6 Gaps Between Intentions And Reality

temkin.jpgForrester 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.

  • Recognition

    Alltop, all the cool kids (and me)

    Top Customer Service Blog
    Online MBA Rankings
  • Recent Comments

    Una on $2000 a Year
    Customer Code of Con… on How to Poorly Represent for Yo…
    media player classic on $2000 a Year
    SEO Tips on $2000 a Year
  • Top 10 Posts

  • Amazon Apple Best Buy Blogging Brand Engagement Brand Management Circuit City Co-Creation Content Conversations Customer Experience Customer Made Digital Home Disruption Entertainment Experience Economy Gaming Generation C (ontent) Global Connectivity Greatest Hits Innovation Lifestyle & Leisure Loyalty Marketing & Advertising Microsoft MP3 orthodoxies Power to the Pocket Retail Retail Close to the Customer SecondLife Sensors Services Simplicity Social Media Social Networks Sony Techno Wars Telecom The New Media This Changes Everything Uncategorized Virtual Life Wi-Life Youth
  • RSS Archive Favorites

  • Where Are You?

    Locations of visitors to this page
  • Archives

  • Next-Up