February 25, 2015
If it’s chaotic and messy- no one will focus on the product. They’ll focus on the messy.
Recently I had some work done in my home, and every day, I knew the contractor was finishing up when I heard the vacuum cleaner running. Every day, I’d go inspect the progress, and the area would be spotless. The result was that the focus was always on the work that had been done- the progress made.
It was remarkable.
Partly because it exceeded my expectations, but mostly because the daily clean-up meant I could see and get excited about the product, instead of focusing on the mess of a work in progress. When the opposite holds true- a mess left behind, dust all over everything, debris scattered about- we can’t help but focus on the debris, and that shapes our opinion about the quality of the work.
This is a good way to think about our work- any work, whether it’s customer facing or internal business. If it’s chaotic and messy- no one will focus on the product. They’ll focus on the messy. If there’s too much information or it’s not clearly organized, it won’t be abundantly clear what your message is, or what you want people to DO with it.
This holds true whether you’re planning a website page, a presentation, or a company communication. Edit vigorously. Keep it clean.
If you want to be heard, do the hard work to make it simple.
October 23, 2013
Free Shipping is still one of the top reasons customers decide to shop on one site vs. another. Yet most sites mention it in a minimal way, if all all. Why? It’s not a new message. It’s not sexy. Those who offer it know it’s a customer expectation. Many seem to think offering it is enough, but don’t see it as an important message at the start of the shopping process. That would be wrong.
The latest report from Forrester research shows that low prices and delivery costs are still the top 2 reasons consumers will revisit a site. As it turns out, fast shipping is much less important (#14 on the list of consumer priorities). While many retailers have downplayed free shipping to explore how to compete with Amazon’s popular Prime service, it has not taken taken the place of simple, free shipping in the consumer’s mind.
While over 92% of retailers online offer free shipping, only 78% actually say so on the homepage, and 22% don’t talk about shipping at all. Those that do promote it, for the most part, are not showing it prominently on the homepage. For more details on the data, see the free summary of Forrester’s report on Internet Retailer: Free Shipping Trumps Fast Shipping For Web Shoppers.
The do-now: Offer Free Shipping. Devote space to it. Make it prominent, persistent and legible on your homepage.
Some good examples:
These are just a few of the best I’ve seen lately. There are a surprising number of major retail brands who don’t show a free shipping offer at all.
The do-now is to make shipping FREE- if it’s not already. Make it prominent. Make it global. It’s an easy “to-do” that will make a difference. With a minimum purchase, you can ensure it’s paying for itself with the volume it drives. And you can test to see where the sweet spot is, for both volume and AOV. Forrester also recommends that retailers promote it throughout the shopping path- not just on the homepage itself. Doing this gives customers reassurance as they browse thumbnail pages, product pages- and most importantly, the shopping cart. The important thing now is to start with the main message.
Do it now, before the holiday races begin.
October 6, 2013
If you’re a man that hates to shop, struggles with fashion sense, or is extremely limited on time-Trunk Club may be the best thing that ever happened to your wardrobe.
Trunk Club is a personalized service that handpicks clothing for you- everything from shirts and jeans, to shoes and belts. The best thing is how the service is designed: It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s tailored to your preferences. Each client is assigned a personal shopper, who will communicate with you as little or as much as you like. You can call, email, text- or even skype. You can specify what you do or don’t want (more black shoes! Only pants…need everything…and so on).
The free service starts with a quick style survey, in which you select your style type (clueless, confident or aficionado), choose from a range of looks and brands that reflect your style, add your measurements- and you’ll be matched with a personal shopper that puts together your first ‘trunk’. The survey takes less than a few minutes.
When you get your trunk, you have 10 days to decide what you want to keep. You can keep it all, or just a portion, and send the rest back.
There are no automatic shipments. You simply call, email or text, when you’re ready for the next shipment.
CEO Brian Spaly started the service because he felt the experience of shopping for most men was too frustrating, overwhelming and time consuming. Before founding Trunk Club, he also founded a company named Bonobos, to create stylish clothing with a superior fit. In solving the problems of fit and shopping, he’s made it easy for men everywhere to avoid the dreaded trip to the mall.
Guys- if you like the idea of never having to shop again, give Trunk Club a try.
September 30, 2013
ios7 was a long time in the making- and a big move for Apple. It’s the first major break from the iconic visual design driven by Steve Jobs and the warm, homey graphics that made the techie device feel familiar: to-do lists that looked like lined paper, a bookshelf that looked like wood, and most importantly, easy to read text, links and buttons.
In this update, the new flattened design takes flat too far. The text is a pretty pale grey and the links a pretty pale blue, making both hard to read. All links are treated equally, so that “skip this step” and “next” links, for example, look exactly the same. The new tool icons are flat and colorless, which combined with the pale blue outlines- make them hard to distinguish. They just don’t pop off the page. The one that’s highlighted is great- if they were all treated that way, they’d seem less diminutive and more actionable.
I like the idea of modernizing the graphics, but this fails in the execution. The graphics are reminiscent of early web design that was less well attuned to customer experience mandates such as legibility, clear calls-to-action and ease of use. The newstand is still a newstand, and I can’t pull my New York Times out of it, so it continues to be two clicks away. The bookshelf design looks like something you might find in a windows app, with books floating on varying shades of blue. The safari icon looks like a compass. And I can’t find the new ‘easier’ to find spotlight search no matter what I do.
The critical issue: The text and link treatments are too pale. Too subtle. These are key elements of the design- and they need to be made legible.
The good stuff:
On the upside, ios7 seems stable and has some great new features. The new control panel is fantastic- it puts key functionality one swipe away, instead of multiple clicks- you can now access sleep, do not disturb, airplane mode- and even a flashlight with a quick swipe. Love that.
The camera is noticably better- with easy controls, and more accessible controls for a panoramic shot, square or video.
And the new App scrolling feature is cool- with two clicks, you get mini screens you can scroll through to see what apps are open and click directly in. Very nice.
There’s lots to like about the new OS release. Though I’m not a fan of how far they took the flattened design, I believe it’s easily fixable. The critical need is to fix the oversimplified text and link treatments. I hope that Apple will recognize the need to do this quickly in upcoming releases. The rest is just a matter of taste.
August 12, 2013
Your shopping mall just got a little smarter. Now there’s technology that allows stores to track customers movements through a store- where they stop, where they try on, when they buy- or what they look at before they walk out. It’s the same, in concept, to what retailers look at online: the customer path from the time a customer arrives, until the time they leave- what they add to cart, what they look at and for how long, and where they are when they decide to leave. Now stores can mine the same kind of measurable data: conversion (of those who come in, what percentage buys) and abandonment, and a glimpse into what’s generating interest as they walk through the store.
What could be controversial is that this tracking happens via your cellphone signal. If your wireless is on, the store software can ping your phone to keep track of where you are and what you’re doing. Is it an invasion of privacy? While it seems a little unnerving to be followed around like this, it’s really no different than what virtually every website does when you browse a site. And to be fair, we all know that there are abundant video cameras in stores and malls, so it’s not as if we couldn’t be watched before. As with website cookies, if you don’t like the tracking, you can turn it off- in this case, by turning off your phone’s wifi setting.
This technology gives stores the opportunity to better learn from what customers are doing- which, in concept- gives them the opportunity to improve the presentation to better serve customers. If they see that no one stops at the first sets of tables, or that certain racks get missed altogether, it might give them better ideas about how to re-configure the displays. By simply making what people want easier to find, they could sell more. So that could be a win-win.
The problem, as with web analytics, is that the data alone doesn’t give you the whole picture: now you know WHAT people are doing, but you don’t know WHY they’re doing it, or how they’re feeling while they’re doing it. This is still an important problem to solve- the things that make it hard to shop, like too tightly packed racks, or hard-to-find size labels, or a limited size range- these are things that affect my abandonment rate- but tracking my wifi will not reveal that. There’s no substitution for asking your customers what they think- not just the ones that buy- but the ones who don’t buy, too.
Next, we need to develop more sophistication in how we get that data. Surveys are okay for online shopping- but they are often long and tedious. Net-promoter surveys are great, because they ask just two questions: Would you recommend us to a friend? Why or why not?
What I want to see happen is the equivalent to the tapping a word on my kindle to see what it means: I want to see a way to provide feedback in context, in the moment- as it’s happening. That’s going to be the most meaningful information to get. Now that I think of it, when I notice a typo in a Kindle book, I wish there were a simple way to highlight it and send an alert, in the moment, in context. Amazon, take note.
June 11, 2013
Great service is transformative. I sometimes find myself inordinately grateful and awed by an experience that exceeds my expectations. It just doesn’t happen that often. How often are you WOWed by amazing service? And how often are you infuriated with a lack of reasonably good service? Probably not terribly often, for either one. It seems the norm is somewhere between- most reputable companies will do what’s essentially right- fix something that went wrong, refund your money for a defective product, or replace it. That is simply what we expect. And we’re satisfied with that.
The fact is, extraordinary service requires an equally extraordinary effort. The company has to believe in it- from the top down. Evangelize it. And fund it. Zappos lives the ideal of amazing service. Even their online chats have an extra friendly touch that reminds you you’re talking to a real person, who’s not afraid to deviate from the script. They live service as an ideal. In fact, “Powered by Service” is part of their logo. If you look at the top area of the site- there are 5 friendly messages going on at the same time- ranging from “Free Next day delivery”, to “24/7 customer service by phone or chat”, to “Free Shipping & Returns 365 days a year”…it goes on and on. And they don’t just promise it- they actually deliver on it, exceptionally well. It’s not easy to deliver great service with a level of consistency. Zappos exemplifies the ideal.
Why don’t more companies build a brand on a platform of great service, like Zappos? Most focus on keeping service costs low- maximizing the efficiencies of cost per call, sales $ per call, and so on. Focusing on great service makes it harder to measure success- or at least, makes it much fuzzier. It will cost more to have customer service agents who are inspired and charged with making the customers happy- who are not rushed to get off the phone. It will take more time, potentially cost more in appeasements or expedited shipping. But does it really? Perhaps Zappos has unlocked the deeper metrics of lifetime value for customers who love the experience- who will come back, again and again- who will look to Zappos first, simply because it is such a great experience. Check out Tony Hsieh’s book, “Delivering Happiness” on Amazon, to see how he did it.
Nordstrom is another legendary company with a reputation for amazing customer service. For them, it’s simple- provide customers with the best possible service- and they do so with simple excellence. They are not as over the top as Zappos about being extraordinary. But they are. They do it quietly, and well. You’ll get treated with respect and helpfulness. You’ll get a business card from your sales person. Sometimes even a thank you note in the mail. And you’ll never have any difficulty returning anything- that’s what they’re famous for. The tire legend lives on- whether it’s true or not, doesn’t really matter (for a recap and analysis of the many versions of this legend, see Snopes. I always assumed it was true- now, maybe, not so much. But it doesn’t matter. They live the ideal of service. It’s enough.
I’ve also been impressed with the Amazon Kindle division. I have a family of readers- and we’ve had at least 3 kindles that stopped working within the first year. Even one that went bad within a month. Each time, I’ve been able to resolve the situation with a quick phone call or online chat, getting a new replacement device delivered overnight, with 30 days to return the defective one. The warranty replacements are brand new- not refurbished. These two things make a big impact: overnight replacement, brand new device. When I’ve had to replace in-warranty phones, for example, I always get a refurbished device- which makes me feel a bit cheated.
On the one hand, the consistency of the product quality hasn’t been so great for all our Kindles. But on the other hand, they support the product so consistently and fairly that I’ve never been motivated to switch to a different brand. I’ve never had to escalate an issue with a manger. Never been frustrated by one of these calls. Even the support for out of warranty devices has been pretty impressive. And several of the devices- 2nd generation kindles, have lasted 4 years and are still working. I always feel good about Kindle after one of these transactions, defective products notwithstanding.
It raises an interesting point: we forgive a company its failures if they solve the problem easily and well. When they don’t? Research shows that an unhappy customer tells up to 3 times more people than a happy one. I’m betting that this is understated. When you’re frustrated out of your mind with a bad experience, chances are, you’ll want to talk about it. You may even post it on Facebook- immediately sharing it with a hundred or more of online friends. Or post it on the company’s website, for all its tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of fans to see. A rabidly unhappy customer is more of a problem now for companies than ever before.
So there’s the great. And the good. And now we’ll give a short moment to the Abysmal.
Abysmal is…a company that will spend 40 minutes on the phone arguing with you about why they can’t help you solve a 2 minute problem.
Abysmal is…a company that employs an outsourced customer service company with people that are neither empowered nor knowledgeable enough to say anything beyond the exact lines on a script, over and over again, with no training for how to deal with an upset customer.
Abysmal is…a customer service agent who is trained to be so scared to escalate to a manager that they insist that there is no manager to speak to.
Abysmal is…waiting on hold for so long that you have to give up.
The companies that allow “abysmal” service, well, those are the ones that either just aren’t paying attention- or are making a fatal mistake. The company that spends 40 minutes telling me why they can’t solve my 2 minute problem is not going to get my business, next time. The company that uses outsourced customer service agents that can’t help and don’t acknowledge that they are not solving the problem, is not likely to get my business again.
Great (or even good) service takes a dedicated and purposeful effort. It goes back to what I’ve always told my staff about building a great website: shop it yourselves, and shop it often, from beginning to end. Forget your password and try to get a new one. Get a delivery and return or exchange it. Live the experience the customers get. That’s the only way you can truly understand what the customer is experiencing. In the words of Mark Hurst, the founder and president of “Creative Good”, an organization dedicated to the art of Customer Experience, and a great proponent of great customer experience, “It’s hard to get people to consider their actions from the perspective of another person. That is the basis of all customer experience work.”
May 21, 2013
But it’s not easy.
Scenario: You set out to make a list of the top 3 strategic initiatives and end up with 20. You just can’t help adding the rejects to the bottom of the list…or the little things. Just in case they make it. It makes everyone feel better to have them captured, so you keep them. But in fact, there’s nothing so demoralizing for the team as the list that never gets done. We need to stop thinking of it that way.
The top initiatives are just that. It doesn’t have to include the little things. The little things are the things we do everyday to support the big things.
Does your company excel at identifying the top few things? One company I worked for called it the “critical few initiatives”. It made it very clear, at all levels of the organization, how to make the right decision about what to focus on, everyday.
It’s not so different from having a clear brand position: once you have it, everyone can use it as a guiding light for behavior, decisions and how they articulate the voice of the brand and apply it to what they specifically do every day.
But why is it so hard to do? How do you do it well?
It’s hard because it requires sacrifice. You can’t do it all at once, with the resources you have. You have to know what’s really important. Startups do this everyday- they have a few good people laser-focused on a clear goal. So they get it done. I’ve been with big companies and little companies, and I can tell you that it’s not size that defines a clear business strategy- it’s courage. That’s right- it’s the courage to take a stand on what’s going to drive your business forward, rather than a mega diner-sized menu that will have something for everyone, and nothing spectacular for anyone.
J.Crew does this extraordinarily well.
Mickey Drexler, in one of his recent features in Fast Company, says: “Simplicity is very difficult to achieve.” But he has done it- over the past 10 years, with Jenna Lyons as the extraordinary creative lead- they have completely reinvented one of America’s favorite brands. They have a vision, and it has paid off, big time- with Michelle Obama and Jessie Jackson (this Jessie, not the reverend), among many others, as devoted fans to the brand. Why? They don’t do just what’s expected. They keep it fresh and creative. And they don’t try to have something for everyone. Each collection has a point of view. It has become the single most coveted American fashion brand at an affordable price point. You don’t achieve that by being indecisive about your priorities. You can find links to Fast Company’s recent features on Mickey and Jenna, here.
Learning Agile Methodologies helped shape my thinking about how to keep it simple. It’s a flexible, yet highly structured way to prioritize and execute on an on-going basis. It requires decisive action and attention on a daily basis to remain focused. And you can still keep your wish list (your backlog), on the fringes to pull from when each new sprint planning meeting comes up. This isn’t a long term strategic planning tool- but it’s a great way to organize the work to support your key strategies. What it does for strategic planning is give you a better sense of how much time things take- how to structure the research around your plans and whether they’re achievable in the desired time period. It’s a great way to support your strategy company wide, and keep everyone focused.
But it all starts with keeping it simple. You have to start by defining the high level goals. And then constructing a plan of the things you need to have in place to get there. And then editing, editing, editing down the list to the things that REALLY matter. And then staying focused, every day, on those things.
It’s not easy, to plan to do less. But what I’ve found in the past year is that planning to do less actually empowers you to do more- both because you don’t have to rethink your priorities every single day, and because you make a bigger impact with a few great things than with a zillion insignificant ones.