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.