Customer feedback: do you really want to know about my experience?

GoBrightline

Companies try all sorts of ways to get customer feedback. You see those emoji button stands as you exit airline security. Every fleet truck I get stuck behind seems to be emblazened with a “How’s my driving?” sticker.  And, last week I took my first ride on Florida’s new express train, the Brightline. On the multiple screens laid out in each train car, the messages alternated between ads, service information, and one message that encouraged passengers to “share your experience!” providing a hashtag for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. OK, Brightline, since you asked, here was my experience:

  • I was supposed to get a $10 coupon for registering. I never received it. When I explained that to the lady at the ticket counter, she took down my name, email, and phone number, but a week later, I haven’t heard anything from anyone. And, she was pretty rude and patronizing.
  • I tried purchasing tickets on my home computer, on my mobile browser, on the app, and at the kiosk in the station. None worked. The rude, patronizing lady succeeded in booking us on the train. By the time we got upstairs to board the train, we were, late for it. Our tickets didn’t work at the turnstyle. A very nice security officer got us through the gates and radioed ahead to hold the train for us.
  • Although our train car only had about 15 people in it, my son and I were given seats that were four rows apart. There was nobody else at the table which I was allocated, nobody in the seat beside him, and nobody in the 6 seats between us. There was also no way to change our seats in the app, so we just both sat at my table, and nobody questioned us.
  • On our return journey two days later, we booked the “Select” service, which Brightline bills as its “first class service”. This time the app did work to buy tickets (but still no coupon). Thanks to a collosally incompetent Lyft driver we missed the train we had booked. Brightline staff kindly and efficiently booked us on the next train — which was an hour later. We went to the Select lounge, where our advertised “enhanced experience” was supposed to include “an ever-changing lineup of enticing bites throughout the day and evening.” Neither my son nor I had eaten dinner (thanks Lyft driver!) and when we got to the lounge, all of the food was gone. Despite advertising “champagne, premium wines and beers, handcrafted cocktails, juices and soft drinks,” a lounge employee was removing everything except the beer, juice, and soft drinks. When I asked about food, I was told that food was only served until 9 o’clock. We got to the lounge at about 9:04. But, nowhere in Brightline’s ads or promotional literature does it say that food was only served until 9pm. And then, the lounge employee was about as rude and patronizing as her colleage from two days ago. I bought food for my son at Brighline’s over priced cafe — although the only reason we had booked “Select” was because we hadn’t eaten. Finally, a very kind employee at the cafe responded very appropriately to our story and put together a plate of cheese and cold-cuts for us.
  • I bumped into a manager and explained our plight. She was rude and patronizing. Maybe she trained the other two employees.
  • The WiFi wasn’t fast enough for my son to play Fortnite. That was a negative for him and a positive for me.

In Brightline’s defense, it is relatively new. But it’s not that new. The West Palm Beach-Fort Lauderdale segment opened in January, and they extended to Miami in May. I’d have thought they’d have worked out the kinks by now. My wife had taken it the week prior to my son’s and my trip and she loved it. Maybe that led to a hightened expectation on my end. And, some elements worked great. Melba, the cafe member in Miami that put together the charcuterie plate for us was a sweetheart. The security staff in both the Miami and West Palm stations were efficient, showed empathy, and frankly displayed better customer service than most of the service staff. And, the on board experience is clean, efficient, and pleasant.

But, I came away underwhelmed and disappointed. I’ll give Brightline another go — it’s not like driving to Miami is fun! But, Brightline, I offered my feedback to your employees and to one of your managers, and for the most part they were rude and patronizing. Since you asked for feedback on social media too, I’m happy to share it there. But there’s a lesson for companies to reconsider how they treat feedback — when you get it directly, in particular. If you genuinely want feedback, you might want to invest in some employee training and introduce some processes to capture the feedback and evolve your experience. If it was just an excuse to display your hashtag, I messed that one up for you. Sorry.

Want to Be Customer Obsessed? Forrester Recommends Starting With Email

Shar VBCustomer Obsession is a theme that Forrester has spent the past few years researching and advocating. It’s not so different from consumer-first marketing. Both terms refer to the practice of allowing insights about consumer behavior to dictate brand behavior.

In a recent Forbes interview, analyst Shar VanBoskirk explained that many brands understand the idea of Customer Obsession, but get stuck when they try to implement it. In a big company, so many processes are already in place to push merchandise, run a sale, or send mass messages that personalizing interactions or communicating with individuals based on their needs is hard to prioritize.

Shar’s research shows that email is an affordable, effective tool that brands can use to become more customer obsessed. It makes sense. Most brands have email platforms, email experts and a lot of information about the consumers that receive their messages. The email team also usually has a reasonable amount of autonomy to direct their messaging strategy.

Rather than think of email as only a promotional tool, email should be used as a communication channel, where marketers interact with individuals. Email can be used for market research, for personalized updates based on past behavior, or just to create goodwill with heartwarming stories.

Shar cites Hilton as a good example. The company delivers a personalized “year in review” email that shows a customer everywhere they traveled, loyalty rewards, and how close they were to reaching the next level of loyalty status. This simple (and automated!) email then allows for Hilton to create ongoing customer-obsessed communication. For example, Hilton could easily send a follow-up that helps the customer achieve extra points to graduate from gold to platinum member status.

Email marketers can be customer obsessed without overhauling the marketing department. Hilton doesn’t need to know every single thing about a customer to send a personalized email, they just need to pull a year’s worth of sales activity into a standard template.  Many customer-obsessed email campaigns can be relatively straightforward, like reminding people what’s in their shopping cart before it expires. Or they can be really complicated. Netflix uses an algorithm to understand consumer’s preferences and recommend movies. Customer-obsessed email campaigns can also pull double-duty. Many personalized digital companies from Birch-Box to TheNest use survey emails to better understand customer preferences – and these messages get significant customer participation. Some companies like Spotify put little survey questions throughout their online experience to gather data when the consumer is most engaged.

Yet, even before data is gathered, the concept of thinking about the customer’s needs must become part of the planning. Someone at Hilton understood that customers react well to seeing a review of their past activity and that the personal touch will mean significantly more than another “Labor Day Weekend Sale” message.

This insight might be the best takeaway from Shar’s research – that email marketers have the power to think about what communication the customer might want, and then craft a campaign around that concept. A customer-obsessed email marketer would try to determine what makes those customers tick first and build around that, rather than blast them with “clever” but vanilla messages that focus only on extoling the products virtues, rather than truly connecting with the consumers’ needs.

 

adidas shows how to demonstrate shared values

parley shoes

I’m not exactly a fan of (American) Football. But, when you live in Florida, you can’t avoid the hype – especially as it relates to college football. This weekend the University of Miami will kick-off their season against LSU, which ordinarily wouldn’t interest me in the slightest. However, one story that caught my eye is that the Miami team uniforms will be made of repurposed and recycled materials. 

The uniforms were created by adidas in partnership with Parley For The Oceans – a partnership that began a few years ago with a limited edition sneaker, and has grown to include other partnerships with Stella McCartney, iconic European (round ball) football teams such as Manchester United, Juventus, and Real Madrid, World Cup national teams, and now, the Miami Hurricanes.

I first became aware of the adidas-Parley relationship last Christmas. My son wanted a pair of their sneakers, and I honestly thought the recycled plastic thing was a gimmick. But, at the same time, I was happy that he thought it was important. And, we had told him he could pick his own pair.

Since I saw the Hurricanes news, I clicked through to a few other articles and was really impressed with adidas’ strategy and commitment. This is no gimmick. Some of their shoes built with recycled materials are highly rated by serious runners and magazines. In 2017, adidas sold 1 million pairs of these shoes, is aiming for 5 million this year, and hopes to only use recycled plastic in its shoes by 2024

This is actually a really impressive demonstration of aligning with customer values. There’s so much bluster about straws and plastic bags in the news these days, and here’s a major brand quietly making a difference. In June and July, more than 900,000 runners participated in adidas and Parley’s “Run for the Oceans” – completing more than 12 million kilometers, including at events in 15 major world cities. adidas also put its money where it’s social consciousness is and matched the first million kilometers run with $1 per km in funding for Parley Ocean School initiatives.

In Miami, after the game, the adidas x Parley A1 jerseys will be auctioned off, with proceeds to benefit the world renowned University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS).

In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer, we advocate that brands should “align company values with your consumers’ values.” adidas gives a perfect example of how to execute on this principle.

Enjoy the long weekend – and, if you’re into it, enjoy the game!

What’s your whining channel of choice?

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 9.33.58 AMI was listening to a podcast this morning when the interviewee mentioned that his twitter account had just been verified. If you didn’t know, Twitter verifies “accounts of public interest” so that the public can know that each is an authentic account. The interviewer, who already has a verified account, quipped that the best thing about that was that the interviewee’s complaints would now be dealt with more quickly by companies.

I laughed, and then I realized the inherent message. Some communications channels are better than others for whining. And, I know I’m guilty too. I’ve shouted into the Twitter ether (tweether?) at Comcast, US Airways (now part of American), Avis, ProFlowers, Starwood Hotels, JetBlue, and countless others.

For sure, there’s something cathartic about firing off a tweet in the moment to bitch about some shoddy service or deplorable experience. But, there’s more to it than that. Generally, you’re far more likely to get a response via Twitter than calling a service center (many of which have caused the present consternation in the first place). The social teams at most brands are really quick to respond to questions and complaints on Twitter. Of course, it helps that they know that your followers, and their followers will see your tweet and their response.

Few social teams are empowered to resolve your concern, although I have had some success with teams helping route me to the right people to resolve an issue. But, the cynic in me would say that a major part of their role is to remove the conversation from the public view, and prevent the negative story from gaining traction.

Let me take the example of ProFlowers. In May, my wife received flowers from a friend which were dry and shrivelled when they arrived. My wife called the customer service team who sent a new bouquet. This happened three times. By now, they were sending free vases and had refunded my wife’s friend. I took to twitter after the third screw-up, and the ProFlowers team responded within 15 minutes. They were apologetic, and gave me an email address that I was expected to contact to come to a resolution. Since, I didn’t expect anything to change, I didn’t email them. But, they succeeded in making it look like they were concerned and responsive. However, I will never buy anything from ProFlowers. I will never recommend ProFlowers. I will be an active brand assassin every time I tell this story.

What ProFlowers, and most other companies, fail to realize is although they quashed the public conversation, they didn’t resolve my issue. They never followed up. They lost my trust. They showed that they are not consumer-first. And, they’ve earned a brand assassin as a result. It’s not enough to deal with and try to limit or hide the whining. Understand the customer’s real concern, and do everything you can to make it right. That’s consumer-first. And, it’s critical when seeking to engage and build relationships with entitled consumers.

Data Transparency Delivers Long Term Benefits

personalization.5b7edbcbb120c

I was interviewed by DMNews for a piece on the challenges of delivering personalization to consumers who are skeptical about sharing their data.  It’s a good piece that underscores the importance of telling consumers the truth about what you intend to do with their data and the benefits they will receive.

 

Crocs and boors and friends, oh my!

crocs_main_042617

A couple of weeks ago, I bought my son a pair of crocs. Typically, I’d buy something like this from Amazon, but the size and color he wanted wasn’t available so I bought them directly from the Crocs website. Since then, I have received an email every single day from Crocs. The first one – apart from the order confirmation – was a welcome email thanking me for my support and promising to keep me posted on all their “best sales events, new product releases, unique discounts, and special offers.” I had no idea how diligently they would deliver on that promise to keep me posted. And, not that I buy crocs very often, but so far all they’ve done is train me that paying full price is a really stupid idea because I’m likely to get a 40 or 50% off email every day.

Except that I won’t get that email. I unsubscribed. I don’t want to get their lunch special, or to ‘stay connected and share the crocs love’, or even to ‘get comfortable with 50% off.’ Crocs has acted like what Nick, Josh, and I call a loudmouthed boor. We compare these boors to someone that comes to your house and won’t shut up –  talking about what’s important to him, without making any effort to understand what’s going on in your life. And, once a boor thinks he knows you, he’ll text you, email you, show up in your Facebook feed, and follow you all around town. If that sounds like your company’s approach, unfortunately, you’re not alone.

The alternative is to act like a friend – someone who considers what’s going on in your life and how they can help you. We interviewed Susan Fournier –  who next week will become the next dean of the Questrom School of Business – for Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. Together with Jill Avery of Harvard and John Wittenbraker of market research firm GfK, she penned a great HBR article that dives deep into the different types of friendships that people have with brands. We provide a synopsis in the boook, but the full article is well worth a read if you’re trying to shed your boorish ways.

The changing face of malls, and retail success

IndochinoI don’t go to malls very often. But I went yesterday with my wife and son to get some back-to-school gear for my son. I was struck by two things. First, there were very few empty spaces. I keep reading about how Amazon will lead to the death of retail and how malls are suffering. And, maybe they are. But, I expected a far more depressing experience than the one we had. And, yes, some of that might be related to my low expectations.

The bigger surprise for me though was the number of brands that I think of as online brands that had their own storefront – I noticed Casper, Untuckit, Peloton, and INDOCHINO. Maybe, I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, we interviewed INDOCHINO CEO, Drew Green and featured the company’s success in Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. According to Drew, brands like INDOCHINO are opening physical stores because:

  • The aforementioned retail apocolypse makes real estate more affordable;
  • Employees, known as Style Guides at INDOCHINO, focus on helping the consumer get what they want – and not just selling whatever inventory is in stock at the time;
  • Style Guides also provide expert measurements to ensure customer’s clothes fit perfectly;
  • Retail is a marketing channel – it provides brand exposure, an opportunity to boost customer experience, and customers that start their relationship in a store go on to order more confidently online.

I don’t know if all of these reasons apply to the other brands that I saw – INDOCHINO is a great example of a Consumer-First business. But, there’s no doubt that these businesses are changing the face of malls. Who knows what they’ll look like the next time I visit if my record of once-every-few-years holds up!