Being Human & Customer Experiences

Many older web companies made their names by disrupting classic businesses, usually through cheaper pricing, but also through better service. They needed to keep their customers happy so good service was essential, most of the time they’d go the extra mile – to buy some coveted word of mouth referral.

Today that situation seems to be changing. Some of the bigger web companies seem to be slipping into the same mold of the companies they worked so hard to replace. Web companies increasingly seem to be impossible to reach, have 48 hour response times, and on the whole – are becoming hard to distinguish from their older counterparts.

Contestant #1

moz-rogerAs an example, one of my clients has been using Moz for over a year and a half, though not using it actively they’ve been busy collecting social data and google campaign analytics. Every so often they’d receive a notice from Moz advising that their credit card billing had a glitch, the account had been suspended & the data archived. So they’d have to un-archive everything and reset the campaigns to get back to normal.

Sounds innocuous right? It was, until they realized that they couldn’t run any reports older than a month or two. All the archived social data was inaccessible. After an email discussion with Moz support, it turns out that the data was permanently inaccessible in an archive. The support team apologised, offered a month’s free service (for the year & half of lost data), and a cat video to make everyone feel better but didn’t acknowledge the mistake or make any comments towards being able to fix the problem in the future. The video made me smile for about a minute, but my client wasn’t amused at all. They’re cancelling their subscription and are currently trying to get the rest of their data exported from Moz.

Contestant #2

Idropbox-logo-12t’s not all doom & gloom though, Dropbox had the same credit card wobble (same client, same card). Rather than archiving their data and suspending the account, they sent an email advising the client that all their data was safe forever, and that the account would remain active for another 30 days. No configuration malarkey, no alarm bells. Same problem, completely different experience.

Subsequent to that Dropbox announced that it had lost some of our clients files, and in the same breath provided a years free service as compensation. When the client wrote to them about this, they acknowledged their mistake, promised not to let them down again, and provided a complimentary increase in their storage space. This didn’t cost Dropbox much at all, but their attitude and approach did an incredible amount to cement the clients decision to stay with them.

The Moral?

Be nice, the human touch goes a long way. Those small customer experience things that made them happy when you were small, are likely going to still keep them happy when you’re bigger. In the case of Dropbox, you don’t even actually need a human to provide a human touch, the whole interaction was automated. Just nicely worded email with a helpful customer centric approach that provides a warm fuzzy feeling of being cared for.

Both systems have large volumes of users, both provide digital services. Whilst I don’t know how many support requests they each receive, I do know which team is getting brownie points for their approach.

Contestant #3

box-logoAs proof of the pudding, here’s one more short story for you, Box received a cancellation request from one of my client’s that was switching to Google Drive. They actually called up. With a telephone! A real person?! Can you believe that? There was a fantastic conversation about what they could do to retain the business, followed by an incentive to come back to them in the future. Despite changing provider (due to cost constraints), the IT team are big Box advocates. How big? They quite emphatically told me all about their experience, and here I am writing about it as a case for what you should be doing. Nicely played.

Omni Channel Retail. Practical first steps.

Like all good buzzwords, it gets inserted into every retail related conversation. It’s the new Holy Grail. I doubt you could read an article about the future of retail  without it being mentioned. Interesting though, it’s not all that new as a concept. There are omni channel articles dating back to 2009 and more famously (Terry Lundgren’s article ) in 2010.

So what is it? Simply put, Omni Channel Retail is about providing your customer the same experience irrespective of medium. So your in store (offline) experience should be same as the one your customers can enjoy online (mobile, tablet, laptop, etc.). Simple, but perhaps a little over whelming.

What about the Tech?

Many Omni Channel articles talk about supply chain logistics, tight integration, data sharing, etc. ~ which is great in an ideal world, but no joke in reality. Sure having your backend completely integrated is a marketers dream as far as data is concerned. You’d have the same power that Amazon has to recommend purchases based on customer profiles, purchase histories, current trends, etc. Practically speaking, unless your retail shop is a “digital native”, which most aren’t, this isn’t something that’s going to happen quickly or easily.

The key to omni channel retail may be in the words “customer experience”. Omni Channel exists because the shopper has evolved. They research products online, look for peer validation, and are used to pausing mid-purchase-cycle and then resuming. These elements of their experience are missing when they’re offline.

The starting point

So the question I ask is, how can these online shopping elements be integrated into your offline customer experience? When we look at some of the most common features of online retailers, many of them can be addressed without massive supply-chain-wide integration (though the solutions below do assume a decent online shopping cart with mobile/responsive friendly design). As for a few of the others, maybe you don’t need a complete overhaul as much as yet another bandage whilst you wait for the impending business-wide-update.

  1. Multiple (large) Images; You’ve got the product in front of you, offline trumps online for visual experience. Access to the wider range of colors in this particular product might be helpful. This could be achieved by providing a QR code with a hotlink to your online store, providing color options. A tablet for the customer to walk around with, that provides immediate product information based on QR/barcode scanning. Or go 100% old school, with a simple color card.
  2. Reviews; Again this can be delivered to the customer on a per product basis by QR Code. The data doesn’t have to be yours. You can source your reviews from other sites. Don’t be shy, your customers aren’t. They’ll trust peer review over your suggestions. Don’t forget this is two way, remember to aggressively collect reviews from customers. Hotels are good at this, and restaurants are getting better. Regular follow-up emails (your email marketing strategy is highly relevant), staff equipped with review tablets…
  3. Large Catalogue; No matter how big it is, your store has a tiny amount of space compared to the Internet. Your entire catalogue should be available through your online store. If it is, and your customer can get to it from inside your store, you’ve just added a lot of space to your store. Checkout what Tesco and Addidas  are doing – that’s a massive saving in real estate, and much much bigger stores.
  4. Product Comparison, Product Suggestion, Cross Selling; See solution #1.
  5. Search & Layered Navigation; More complicated. Searching a physical store doesn’t need to be a nightmare for your customer, libraries have been doing it for years. Provide an equivalent of an ISBN shelf reference for your goods and easy tablet access upfront. Your customers can jump straight to what’s exciting them. Keeping this data up-to-date is tougher, so don’t make the references too granular.
  6. Quick Checkout; Apple did it with their mobile check-out-counter-staff. Why can’t you? Yes it’s not integrated to your POS. But would you rather lose a customer to a long queue (be honest, how recently have you walked away from a purchase because of queues?), or just pay an extra percent to have the transaction completed via your online store? As an aside, there’s also a much higher chance of sales if your staff are empowered to immediately close sales.
  7. Coupon options; Everyone is looking for a discount. If they can get them online, give it to them offline. Domino’s does this and it works. Making the deals online exclusives just drives the business out of stores, and potentially to someone else.

Implementing these ideas may get you closer to being a omni channel retailer, but it won’t fix all your problems. It is not a magical marketing plan or technology solution. You’re still going to have to serve cookies at Christmas, create experiences that people want to come in-store (or online) for and actually find ways of reaching them. This is just going to help you increase conversions once they’re there.

Whats your experience been with omni channel retail? Where do you think retailers need to start?

The real cost of outdated websites

Whilst I was in Bangalore I was looking for a HSBC ATM to withdraw some cash from, so I hopped onto the HSBC website (below), used the ATM finder and drove to the nearest ATM location. Here ends the good news. I spent 30 minutes and a little too much frustration looking for the ATM before I finally called the HSBC call center, who (after a few minutes of hold music) informed me that there were no ATMs in ITPL – and that the website was wrong!

Snapshot of HSBC India Online Branch Locator

I’m not entirely sure whats worse. The fact that I wasted so much time driving around and looking for the ATM (which didn’t exist), or the fact that I don’t trust the branch/atm finder service.

Rather than helping, having an outdated website causes customer frustration, and creates the wrong impression of your brand. If you can’t provide up-to-date or correct information, You’re probably better off not providing the information at all. If you’re compelled to put something online, at the very least specify the date the information was published/last-updated, so your readers have some idea as to how current & reliable it is.

If you’re building a website, keep in mind your ability to maintain it with fresh, or at least current & relevant information. If you have to maintain an existing website, and don’t have enough internal resource – or can’t get support from other departments, consider cutting back on the size of your website. It’s better to direct your customers to a fresh, well maintained, relevant but small website – than a big site, with minimal or outdated information.