Recommending others…

I’ve had a bit of a nightmare day. Having overcome some slight hiccups with work, I then ended up having to deal with some problems at home after our annual heating and boiler inspection. If you’ve ever had a day which is constantly throwing up challenges, you might understand why I’d really like to restart the week tomorrow if possible!

Hopefully you can also take comfort from knowing that you’ve managed to deal with at least some of the problems straight away, even if others take a little more time – that’s what’s keeping me motivated this evening.

But when I thought about my failure to get a blog post prepared for today, I realised I’ve been neglecting something. I’m pretty good at sharing content and recommendations via social media, and it’s really second nature to tweet a good blog post or +1 a presentation. Yet I’ve been increasingly neglecting the same role on my blog, and although I can come up with a couple of explanations (I keep forgetting the PressThis bookmarklet, I feel obliged to write lengthy explanations/counterarguments when I share), they’re not very good ones.

So to start correcting that, here’s a recommendation for a keynote speech and accompanying slides from Dave Cushman at CeBit. It’s a lengthy video, but packed full of a lot of useful info and insight.

And I’ve consciously chosen not to embed the slides or video on here – I’ve been doing some thinking about sharing, particularly in light of the rise of ‘frictionless sharing’, and how it’s changing the interlinks of the internet. More on that to come…

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.

Report shows social companies make more money

A new report by McKinsey shows that ‘fully networked enterprises are not only more likely to be market leaders or to be gaining market share but also use management practices that lead to margins higher than those of companies using the Web in more limited ways.’ Or, in non-consultant speak – by being social inside and outside your company, you’ll make more money, and be able to get higher profits.

Cash Money by jtyerse on Flickr (CC Licence)

'Cash Money' by jtyerse on Flickr (CC Licence)

Networked enterprises are using collaborative technology and techniques to connect internal employees, and also to improve communication with customers, suppliers and partners. And the report also notes that the trend for using these tools is following an S-curve, which means rapid adoption by a lot of companies as they realise they can earn more.

Want to become social?

There are a couple of elements missing from the McKinsey report summary – firstly, it’s not just enough to roll out some new social technology. It won’t do anything for your business just sitting there, and that includes customer social outreach like blogs, social media, video sharing etc.

Ideally you should plan for the best and most effective social technologies which will have an impact on your employees and your customers, and the ways in which they will need to be encouraged, maintained, and evolved over the time. That might sound scary, but it’s actually a part of the process which I love – essentially putting together what your customers want, what your employees want, and how that can create revenue for your business. And if you’d like some assistance, then look for someone with experience of rolling out new social technology and knowledge transfer.

Then there’s the willingness to experiment, take risks, and also embrace the occasional failure. Too many companies are paralysed by fear of failing, when any social iniative carries an inherent flaw which you’ll never get rid off – dealing with humans! The effective route is not to avoid collaboration and social initiatives, but to start simple and plan 2 or 3 initiatives in the short term. One of those new ideas which takes off will more than compensate for the others – and in addition to productivity and revenue increases, it’ll also pave the way for more successes in the future, as long as you continue to evolve and progress it.

There’s an almost overwhelming abundance of opportunities out there, and keeping it simple and effective is key, with the agility to help it evolve and change your business for the better.