Posts from the ‘Branding’ Category
July 31, 2015
The approach is based on a lower pricing strategy, combined with fast delivery. It’s a major, gutsy play for Jet.com’s founder and CEO, Marc Lore. No one has seriously tried to beat Amazon on price – until now. But if anyone can do it, the founder of Diapers.com, Wag.com and Soap.com can. After successfully building these powerful brands, defined by amazing branding, customer experience and convenience (personalization- reminding me that it’s time to reorder, and making it easy to do so; free 2 day shipping, even on a 40lb bag of dogfood), Lore sold Quidsi brands to Amazon for over $500 million.
So it’s just a little bit epic that he’s going after Amazon now.
The key differentiator for Jet.com is that Lore creates beautiful and engaging customer experiences that create a devoted customer base with loyalty and an emotional connection to his brands. And from that perspective, Jet doesn’t disappoint. The site has a powerful brand identity and a great customer experience. The search is powerful, the sort features are what’s needed, and the selection seems robust. The homepage promises ‘club price savings’, which alludes to Costco as well as Amazon’s prime pantry. Jet is going directly after Amazon on price, showing comparative pricing against Amazon on every item, to demonstrate the savings.
How is Jet.com doing it? They’re sourcing wide and far- and instantly serving up the prices that are lowest based on your location and things that are cheaper to ship together. Jet will show ‘smart savings’ on items that work well together. every time you add to cart, an animated calculator comes up to show you how many items are now cheaper on the site- it has a little bit of a slot machine effect, of making you feel like there’s a reward with every transaction.
There’s a ways to go- Jet is operating at a huge loss currently, as it gets the infrastructure in place to do this efficiently. From a customer perspective, there’s work yet to be done- product descriptions at the thumbnail level don’t always make it clear what the quantity is for the price, so it can be a little confusing. In the shopping cart, I see how much I’ve saved per item, but no subtotal for line items I’ve ordered in multiples. They need to add a quick-view feature to the search display- something Amazon doesn’t have, so could be yet another differentiator.
In the shopping cart, you can save even more if you select certain payment methods, or to waive the ability to have free return shipping. More incentive to checkout. On my $50 purchase, I saved over $9- not bad.
The biggest obstacle for Jet in driving repeat purchases, is that their creative sourcing means that an order ends up shipping in many multiple packages: My order of 8 items will arrive in 5 separate shipments. I’m not paying the added cost- Jet is absorbing that. But as a customer, I don’t like the inconvenience and waste associated with receiving that many packages and keeping track of whether everything has arrived.
Will Jet give Amazon and Walmart a serious run for their money? Maybe. I hope so, because the competition is good- and I love a site that takes the time and effort to make the customer experience feel like a wonderful place to be. It’s a differentiator that matters- Amazon has never tried to go there, and Walmart failed when they tried- their customer associates a certain over-crowded messiness with savings. It could be the differentiator, combined with price- that makes Jet.com a serious contender.
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 17, 2013
All this bad press about Mike Jeffries and his reprehensible statements has created a firestorm in social media. Has he gone too far this time? Well, yeah. He always does. But…
Is Abercrombie bad because of what he said, or because of what they do?
Indeed, his comments are awful. While I could argue that Abercrombie’s aspirational brand vision goes too far (something that’s been hotly debated for years- ever since they launched the magalog with naked teens on the cover), it’s not a new marketing tactic to use shock-value to get media attention. Abercrombie has always pushed the limits, and in fact, revels in going over. But they’re not really doing anything new, now. They’ve always marketed the brand for cool, skinny people. They’ve always had teeny-weeny little sizes that could fit your toddler. So why is everyone so hopping mad about it, now?
Because he crossed the line. He didn’t just cross it, he leapt over it. He said what no one would say. And defies the ideals of inclusion, acceptance and diversity. In the 2006 Salon feature that’s been so widely publicized this past few weeks, the interviewer asks him how important “sex and sexual attraction are in what he calls the ’emotional experience’ he creates” and Jeffries says:
“It’s almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
(“The man behind Abercrombie & Fitch“, Benoit Denizet-Lewis for Salon, 2006)
Is this exclusionary strategy so different from other high profile fashion brands? Or is he just brutally honest? Let’s focus on the sizing issue. Abercrombie’s sizing is notoriously small. It doesn’t carry extra large sizes for women at all. Even the men’s sizes are downsized: a men’s size XL sweatshirt fits like a women’s size 12.
If you look at the sizing for many upscale fashion retail brands, it’s not really that different. Abercrombie defines a Large as equivalent to a size 10. Many fashion brands define a large as a size 10-12. Some go even smaller, defining it as an 8-10. And others (the less trendy) define it as a 12-14 or even a 14-16. There’s no standardization for sizing, and we all know it, as frustrating as it is. It always differs by brand. Some are just cut slim- others more generous. We all know the brands we can wear, and the ones we can’t. So Abercrombie is hardly unique when it comes to size range.
Considering the brand issue, Abercrombie is not unique in having a passionate and specific vision of its aspirational lifestyle and target customer. Countless fashion brands have an aspirational look that celebrates, young, thin, beautiful women, with a target customer that exemplifies the aspirational lifestyle. That’s not news. The key difference? Most brands don’t celebrate the exclusion. What’s hateful about the Jeffrie’s incident is that he didn’t focus on what’s good about his brand- he focused on what’s bad about the people that don’t fit into his brand image. And that’s bad business.
Jeffries has since posted an apology on facebook that reads:
“I want to address some of my comments that have been circulating from a 2006 interview. While I believe this 7 year old, resurrected quote has been taken out of context, I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense. A&F is an aspirational brand that, like most specialty apparel brands, targets its marketing at a particular segment of customers. However, we care about the broader communities in which we operate and are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion. We hire good people who share these values. We are completely opposed to any discrimination, bullying, derogatory characterizations or other anti-social behavior based on race, gender, body type or other individual characteristics.”
This isn’t the first time Jeffries has hurt the brand he worked so hard to build. He’s been dragged through the mud on many other occasions for discrimation against…well, just about every group except his target audience. So far, Abercrombie has always weathered the storm. But I wonder, will the cool kids really want to keep buying into this? Time will tell.
March 10, 2012
Making your brand extraordinary isn’t about the grand gestures. You don’t have to be a $500 million company to create meaningful moments for your customers. And you can be any size at all to fail your customers in the blink of an eye.
A pass? Providing your full attention in the moment. Acknowledging the customer who is waiting. Saying ‘thank you’. A little surprise, like a Reward card or a sample in the box. Saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’.
Epic fail? A scornful response to an angry or annoying customer. Thinking the customer is stupid. Not finding it important to make each contact a positive one. Forgetting that the customer is why you get paid to show up at all.
We always say it’s the little things that make a difference, and yet it’s so easy to forget as we go about our days, with all the accumulated stresses and pressures that we’re dealing with, to make the effort to listen, to really hear, and to respond thoughtfully and generously. The people and companies that become legendary are the ones who are able to make the minutes count. Even the bad ones. But how do they do it? It starts with a clear, focused mission that puts the customer at the forefront. Consistent performance. A culture that sustains thoughtfulness as a value, even behind the scenes.
Have you every noticed how delighted you are when someone gives you what you want, right away, with a smile- even when you want to return something too late, or with the tags off, or you’re being antagonistic because you expect a ‘no’, and then you get a friendly ‘yes’? It’s a nice surprise. It can make you feel so great about an experience, and yet it’s really just such a small thing. It’s not easy to be that person who smiles and remains friendly when someone’s being difficult and antagonistic, when viscerally, you just want to respond in kind.
That’s what makes it special. It’s harder to be nice sometimes, but it’s a win-win for everyone. For a brand, it can create buzz. It can make you remarkable. And your customers will so happily want to bring friends to you, because it’s surprising and wonderful, and makes a difference in their day.
It reminds me of something that happened last week on the way home. Every day I commute to and from work on the bus. I completely zone out, reading or sleeping the entire way home. It’s the same, day after day. Except one night, last week, we pulled to the back of the parking lot, where the headlights showed a racoon- yes, a real racoon, standing inside a plastic storage box turned sideways, eating out of a Chinese food container. The next night, he was there again, eating from a new one. Now, every few days, we drive that way to see if he’s home. And usually, if we’re there at the same time, he is. Someone is bringing Chinese food to that Racoon. Or he’s having it delivered. Or he’s found a friendly, neighborhood garbage to raid. The point is- it was an extraordinary thing to see in the vast paved parking lot with hundreds of cars and people going about their daily commute. Just hanging out, in all his fuzzy glory, eating his lo mein.
It made us smile. And we’ve talked about it ever since. But really, it was just a racoon. What’s so special about that? It’s just that it was so unexpected. So out of context. It was remarkable.
A great customer experience is like that Racoon. It becomes something worth talking about.
February 27, 2012
Abysmal writing in business is a terrible thing. Besides being unpleasant to read, it can instantly strip away your credibility as a cause, a brand or a company.
Sure, the advertising and retail world take a little license to play with the English language to make a point, or to create a more powerful message. But that’s intentional, so we give it a pass (to a point).
Bad spelling, misuse of words, or flat out bad grammar can hurt you. It makes you look unprofessional. It makes your message look careless and sloppy. Organizations looking to print, publish or launch something online, thinking perhaps they’re saving a few dollars by writing it themselves, well, they’re not saving anything in the end. They’re losing credibility. They’d be much better served by calling the people out there who make a living doing it.
Here’s a striking example. I got a letter from a local not-for-profit organization, working to protect open space. The header sets the tone for the entire piece, screaming, “DO NOT EXCEPT FALSE CHOICES ON TAXES”. Later in the letter, there’s a sentence saying, “If you were lead to believe…”
The entire letter is riddled with errors- grammatical, spelling, bad word usage. It’s embarrassing. The letter is signed by a Ph.D and a Lawyer. So either they never took the grammar unit in high school, or perhaps a volunteer wrote it- who knows. The point is, they signed it. If your name is on it, you need to read it.
The other thing to avoid is superfluous formatting: excessive use of capital letters, colors, underlines and bold type- by emphasizing lots of things, they end up featuring nothing. It’s just ugly and sensationalistic. This seems to be a common, yet unfortunate method many direct mailers use to try to get our attention. It does. But not in a good way.
This is an extreme example, but I can’t tell you how often I see grammatical and misspellings in business and upscale retail communications. If you have a brand to protect, and an important message to share- take the time to make it good. Your message will resonate if it’s written well. Or at least have a fighting chance.
The unfortunate mailer:
February 22, 2012
Sirius XM radio is not my friend anymore.
I broke up with them- a result of economizing and lack of usage. It wasn’t a friendly break-up.
It started out nicely. They kept me going for almost 6 months with incentives to continue the service. I thought it was a great customer retention strategy. When I first tried to cancel, they offered a discounted price for 3 months of service. I said no, thanks. They offered a better price. I said no again. They offered 3 months free. I said yes- why not? This happened twice- each time when I tried to cancel.
At the end of the second 3 months, they billed me about $80 for the following quarter. I sent back the bill asking for the account to be cancelled instead. They started calling my cell phone. The first time they called, they said, “are you aware that there’s a remaining balance of $12.99 on your account?” I cleared that up by telling them I was cancelling my service, and owed nothing. They said I’d have to call a different department to deal with that. So I thought, that’s ok- they’ll see my cancel request in the mail, and sort this all out.
They started calling my cellphone a few times a day. Then 4-8 times of day. Sometimes as late as 9 or 10pm. Each time, with the same, “are you aware…” Over, and over, and over. This happened over a period of several weeks. Every time I’d get home from work and try to call, they would be closed. Finally, I got through- and told them, the calls need to stop. I owe you nothing. You are harassing me. They said, so sorry- we’ll put you on the ‘do not call’ list, take the charges off your account-but it may take a few days.
Several more weeks of stalking followed. The 888 number popping up on my cell phone at all hours of the day- until in frustration, I’d pick up and say, ‘stop stalking me!’.
Eventually, it did stop.
But it was harassment- seriously so.
Clearly, they are desperate to keep subscribers. Early on, the great offers were a wonderful way to surprise and delight, and keep me going- it actually kept me on the service for 6 months longer than I intended. The endless calls with telemarketers that had no idea that I’d already been called a zillion times, were just about the most abhorrent telemarketing onslaught I’ve ever encountered. When I asked one of them why they kept calling, he said, “I’m sorry- a number just pops up on my screen and I have to call it”. They have no idea of the history, of the customer, of the situation. A number just pops up.
This is the antithesis of everything we stand for when we talk about customer service. It’s not going to win anyone back. You have to wonder what XM’s marketing department thought they were going to accomplish in the long-term, by bilking people out of $12.95 as final hurrah, as they sever the relationship. I can picture a bunch of marketing folks in a room, trying to come up with creative ways to make the quarter’s sales goals.
Not a good way to go, Sirius XM, not a good way to go.