Good service, bad service and social media

I went for a quick shopping trip at Bluewater yesterday, and it once again highlighted how important it is to align the whole customer experience of your brand, including your products, service levels and marketing. A comparison of three retail and social media experience sum it up nicely:

Store 1: Uniqlo:

I’ve heard various things about Uniqlo and browsed their stores, but this was the first time I’ve intended to make a purchase, having seen numerous mentions of their selvage jeans (Selvage refers to the method of stitching, if you’re not a denim geek). And the level of service was great – first someone was able to help me find the one pile of the right jeans amongst the masses on display, and also explained that they offer a free alteration service when I struggled to find the right leg length.Then the young lady manning the fitting rooms was also friendly and helpful when arranging the alterations and pinning the jeans, and the till staff maintained that. After 40 minutes I came back and my jeans were ready.

Store 2: Ed’s Easy Diner:

I’m a big fan of good burger joints and Americana, so Ed’s should have been perfect. But it was average for various reasons. Partly the quality of food doesn’t quite justify the price (the bacon on my burger was burnt and rock solid, the strawberry milkshake was mainly vanilla, and the chips were undercooked). And partly because the three waiting staff between them were disinterested at best. Having invested in something slightly overpriced and with a hefty amount of competitive restaurants nearby, seeing our food and drinks slammed on the table or being ignored when we tried to pay the bill really didn’t make up for the food. Especially when I’ve experienced alternatives including the constant favourite Byron Burger in London (for example).

Store 3: Soletrader:

The actual service in Soletrader wasn’t bad – reasonably quick, friendly and helpful. The problem is that they were totally hampered by the store infrastructure. I’ve received a voucher for the store, which can’t be redeemed online. I want a specific pair of trainers, which are never in stock in my size. And although I can order them to a physical store, I really wanted to try the two closest sizes to check the right fit. It’s the sort of problem which turns a normally docile and compliant customer into one who will cause any amount of hassle to get rid of his voucher and never go near the store again.

How about the social media marketing:

When I came back online, I decided to tweet about the 3 different levels of service – good, average, and hampered by store policies.

Interestingly, Uniqlo didn’t need to respond or acknowledge my recommendation, but various friends echoed the fact that instore it’s a great experience (Although apparently their email marketing can be pretty overwhelming). That’s fine as I’m quite happy to follow their Twitter account.

Ed’s Easy Diner didn’t respond which is consistently disapointing. I’d hoped to be reassured that my experience may have been a one-off, but can only assume it wasn’t.

But the most interested in the fact that Soletrader did get back to me on Twitter. I got an acknowledgement and an apology for the hassle, although yet again, someone attempting to offer service and customer care couldn’t actually provide a solution, although they did say ‘we’re looking into a way gift vouchers can be used online in the future’.

More effort needed:

Recent stats show that customers expectations of service and feedback via social media outstrip the expectations of companies to monitor and respond. That has to change, and it has to go just beyond monitoring mentions and passing on details.

I wouldn’t necessarily expect Ed’s to respond with any offers or compensation (though I wouldn’t have complained if they did), but at least acknowledging their was a problem with the service offered and finding out more about my experience may have helped them identify a way in which they could improve their business in a location with a high level of competing restaurants and a fairly captive market. It certainly wasn’t busy when we ate, and yet we still ended up on a table with a jukebox out of order.

And Soletrader really need to move more quickly to solve their infrastructure problems, or empower staff to sort a solution out. I hate to quote the Zappos example yet again, but it’s appropriate for a footwear company. If the marketing team on Twitter wanted to turn an annoyed customer into a loyal one, they’d just need to grab a pair of Onitsuka Tigers in blue/red in size 7 and size 8 – send them both to my home address and allow me to send back the pair which didn’t fit. I can give them the voucher code in advance, and they can deal with the hassle of it not being valid for an online order. But having checked the Soletrader site, it appears of 13 different shoes, they have 3 in stock in size 7 across the UK.

The financial risk would be the outlay on posting one reasonable sized box (About £10), and the risk of losing one additional pair of trainers (Retail £70, so under that). I wonder what their current cost is for customer acquisition, and what value they put on their marketing and advertising expenditure, but without being too engrossed in follower numbers, the fact that I personally have twice as many as their official account means that it would probably be a cost efficient exercise overall – and the fact that I also have a number of sneaker addicted friends (including a couple of sneaker collectors) would surely pay off.

Compare that to the knowledge that if I’d just paid for trainers I’d get free postage and returns to store. But by receiving a voucher which ties me into that store I lose all the benefits and service, and instead gain additional hassle.

UK retailer Debenhams embraces Twitter for a day…

Just for today, UK department store retailer Debenhams is embracing Twitter in it’s Oxford Street branch in London.

To coincide with its big annual sale, it has given six members of staff a smartphone and nominated them as ‘Twitter Assistants’ to answer questions sent to @DebenhamsRetail with the hashtag #debtwtasst.

The store has said that as it’s an experiment they’re not sure what questions will be asked – mine will be whether this is something they plan to continue, or if it’s just a quick bit of bandwagon-jumping for PR purposes?

Woolworths online is a case study in waiting

So Woolworths is going to return as an online-only retailer, having been bought by Shop Direct (which owns Littlewoods and Choice) after going into administration.

Woolworths closes (Pic by osde8info on Flickr)

Woolworths closes (Pic by osde8info on Flickr)

It’s going to be very interesting for a number of reasons.

The first is trying to guess what it will actually sell. It had a music download shop, which closed with the High Street stores, but there’s logical reasoning to suggest digital downloads make a lot of sense. The PaidContent UK article has a quote which claims Woolworths will do entertainment and everything that made it famous on the High Street – but was it really famous for entertainment?

After all, it started by selling children’s clothing, toys and stationary. And Shop Direct might have seen success with Littlewoods, but that’s a name known for catalogue shopping.

And while there’s evidence that ‘bricks and mortar’ shops can do well online, the same evidence lists the top four retailers as Amazon, Argos, Play.com and Tesco.com.

An interesting post on the icrossing blog uses the example of Dixons to show that the move online is the right decision, but mentions how Dixons bought and integrated online photo service Pixmania and the search and affiliate expertise it had.

And that’s where I think Woolworths could very well fall down.

No-one has stated, or even managed to suggest, what the belief will be – and ‘The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript‘ is what I believe caused the collapse of Woolworths, Zavvi and MFI. (Just realised I’ve restated Mark Earl’s ‘Purpose Idea’ from the other angle.)

Sadly the awesome Brand Tags doesn’t include Woolies. But I doubt entertainment would be first on the list. It’s Pic’n’Mix in both sweets and belief. A ‘five and dime‘ store with sweets, entertainment, furnishings, cookware, pens and paper and other random stuff.

That has a benefit offline, should you need a selection of random stuff, and not want to wander round a larger department store, or go for the clear low cost of Poundland. And if you’re of a certain age, you could meet with your friends and have a cup of coffee.

But online we already have Tesco and Argos. And anything is just a click away.

And in entertainment, Woolies is facing Amazon, iTunes and a music industry that is struggling to workout what it should do to survive.

And those loyal customers who used it as a meeting place are likely to have already found online alternatives – and if they’re not online yet, the prospect of Woolworths won’t make them buy a new PC and broadband.

But maybe there is a loyal niche group who could find a solution – there’s a small group on Facebook discussing it, even if the dreaded brand word crops up too much for my liking.

And I like the fact the Woolworths site is currently displaying a form for comments on the good and bad about the business. Even if the reassurance it’s returning is a bit naff. ‘I haven’t shopped since Woolworths closed’, a man sobbed.

But whether Woolworths becomes something really different and cool with a purpose that makes sense, or collapses for a second time in a supernova of pic’n’mix, it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Some recommended reading

Over Christmas I took the chance to beg, borrow, steal and buy various books I’d been meaning to read for a while, and having gone through the first three, I thought it was time to share

Why We Buy by Paco Underhill:

Paco Underhill is a ‘retail anthropologist’, and the founder of Envirosell, a company which spends thousands of hours collecting data by actually tracking individual shoppers as they move around shops and supermarkets. Unfortunately my borrowing policy meant I didn’t have the edition revised and updated for the rise of the internet, so the chapter about online retailing from 1999/2000 was pretty redundant, but there was still a lot of useful information and inspiration to be gained. Particularly around the perceptions business owners had, compared to what was actually happening. There’s also some important insight into how you can accidentally make things really difficult for shoppers if you don’t think about who they are and what their needs and limitations are. Key quote: ‘Amenability and profitability are totally and inextricably linked’. There’s also a secondary lesson in that I wanted to find out more about how things have changed since the book was published, but there’s not a lot of information on the Envirosell site, and the News section isn’t updated very much. So I’m left trawling a Google Search – bit of a fail to make things amenable!

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman:

If you wanted to give someone a textbook history of how the world has changed due to online connectivity, this would be the first choice.  It’s a weighty book, but incredibly readable (He’s a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner), and covers the 10 important flattening elements in our time, from the fall of the Berlin Wall and release of Netscape to changes in outsourcing, Google and personal digital devices, which were all brought together by three forces of convergence. Not only that, but he also offers great examples, and insight into how countries (particularly the U.S.) should be adapting to meet the new challenges (which also applies to businesses). He’s also got a site/blog at www.thomaslfriedman.com Key quote: The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention argues that no two countries that are both part of the same global supply chain will ever fight a war as long as they are each part of that supply chain.

Moneyhunt: 27 rules for creating and growing a breakaway business by Miles Spencer and Cliff Ennico

I’ve missed the U.S Show, which is similar to Dragon’s Den in that it allows entreprenuers to gain publicity for their businesses – except that in this case, they get free help from a specialist in their field rather than direct cash. But the book is a great, no-nonsense guide to common-sense rules which are easy to overlook – with a handy real-life example of each rule in practice which helps to make it stick. And although the legalities are all based around U.S law, there’s enough there to be valuable advice for whichever country your business will be based in. Sadly the website is a bit pants: MoneyHunt. Key quote: If in running your business you reach a point where you truly believe that you know what you are doing, where you are going, and what’s going on around you, chances are you are overlooking something very important.

Would you risk telling people not to buy from you?

Because that’s a difference between the old world and the new.

I’ve been following the always awesome Gary Vaynerchuk for the while on Twitter, as well as watching his videos at GaryVaynerchuk.com. If you don’t recognise the name, he decided to launch Wine Library TV from his basement, became a major internet celebrity and business success, and now also speaks with authority on what is happening to business and marketing, such as this great appearance at Web 2.0 Expo:

Another great example of how he does things differently to a traditional marketer or businessman appeared on Twitter yesterday:
GaryVaynerchuk

In case the image is too small, he’s actually telling people not to buy from his own company, because he was about to reveal a free shipping code for wine.

Now companies have special offers all the time, especially at the moment, with the economic climate – that isn’t unusual.

  • But how many firms would actively tell people ‘Dont BUY ANYTHING FROM @wldaily ( winelibrary.com) for another 4 1/2 hours’?

In general, they wouldn’t, because it would seem stupid to stop people paying full price while they’re willing, and then to get the boost at a lower price.

But what that misses is the amount of immensely annoyed people who find out they missed out on a special offer by valuing your product enough to pay full price – and by a matter of days, hours, or minutes.

Not only are they likely to be annoyed about your brand in general, but are they likely to pay full retail price ever again if they know you could launch a sale at any second without warning them?

Sure, you might get a higher profit on one purchase, but what will the difference be over a year? five? ten? Especially when they’ll tell everyone they know?