I have written numerous posts about the relationship between marketing and customer service. Plainly speaking, the former means zip without the latter. It’s at the front lines – at the point at which a customer is making a purchase decision – that a consumer will make his or her long-term choice (and, as a result, determine whether a company’s advertising is believable or laughable).

This is a story about JCrew.

I’m an active customer. I don’t often respond to emails, but I pore over the catalogs and either buy from there or go to a nearby store to check out the merchandise.  I do, however, keep an eye out for the end-of-season sale emails.

And so it was a couple evenings ago. I bit on a 30% off plus free shipping sale.  While watching TV, I invested maybe 30-45 minutes combing JCrew’s web pages, determining my confidence levels under the  final sale, no returns circumstances.  I finally initiated an online transaction which – before the discount totaled $149.98 – 2¢ below the $150 hurdle for free shipping. 

Surely for 2¢, JCrew would see the sense in helping a loyal customer, if I were to just call and ask… 

Not so much.  The phone rep seemed confused by the question (um, uh, $149.98 is not $150 and that. is. the. rule), but this did not surprise me and I just asked to speak to a supervisor.  Unfortunately – after waiting for maybe 90 seconds, expecting to be rewarded by the supervisor I’d asked for – the same rep came back and suggested I buy a pair of socks to push me over the $150 limit. 

So now I’m mad.  I almost laugh after I catch myself shifting into Perry Mason mode: “So let me just be clear, because I’m going to tweet and maybe blog about this – the company is not going to waive a 2 cent difference for a frequent customer – is that what you’re saying?!” (Is that your testimony, M’aam!?).  Geez – you’d think that those ballet slippers meant life or death, but you know how these things go.  I insisted on speaking to a supervisor one more time because this just seemed so dumb to me.

And then the clouds parted and a supervisor named Nicole R. came on the line. She could not have been more pleasant or professional.  She ignored the 2 cent gap and gave me free shipping with no hesitation.  She offered to complete the online transaction over the phone, so we did.  All done.

So why is this blog-worthy?  It’s a great example of service recovery.  The concept of service recovery is that people and companies screw up.  Everyone knows it.  It’s how something broken gets fixed that can show how customer-centric a company really is. 

Nicole R.’s service recovery skills probably made me feel more positive about JCrew than I had when I started the transaction in the first place.

And then Nicole R. really took it way past the goal line.

Only after she had completed the entire transaction did Nicole mention (nicely) that – for future reference – free shipping offers apply to the purchase price after all discounts are applied.

My $149.98 was before the extra 30% off.   After the discount, I was $45 away (not 2¢) from the $150 hurdle.  Nicole R. had immediately honored my request, saved me $14.50 and made sure I was happy.  Only then did she point out this small fact.

Now we’re into “delight” territory.  For me, $14.50 (or $45, depending on how you see it) was a big deal.  Nicole at JCrew understood that this was a tiny investment in a long-term customer relationship.

Wonderful. Sensible. Amazing. Bravo!!!

It’s a shame that consumer expectations regarding customer service are so low, but it also gives companies an outsized opportunity to stand out.  And more often than not,  “standing out” actually happens in the everyday interactions you have with a consumer.  A lot of whiz-bang is great, but these small moments are what build lifetime relationships… and help marketing efforts look believable in the process.

Is Santa the best marketer ever?

Think about it:

Long-term reputation management: No Tiger Woods problems here. Ever.  Do you think that Coca-Cola worries that it might go to sleep one night and wake up to find a sex tape of Santa on the Web? Have you ever noticed that the whole “Mommy kissing Santa Claus” business never seems to go past a certain point (paging Charlie Sheen…)?  Nope, not gonna happen.  Santa is one reliable dude.

Brand promise and channel integration: No matter where you go, you receive the same disciplined message.  Movies, television, email, radio, social media, Web, snail mail, music, retail… You get the same message everywhere and each channel builds upon and reinforces the others.  He’s big, he’s fat, he wears a red suit and he gives you what you ask for on Christmas Eve. Not December 23. Not December 25. It’s December 24. Every year. The end.

Never any hidden charges:  There are no Congressional committees convening to discuss whether Santa is taking advantage of consumers.  There is no small print.  You are not likely to be subscribed “accidentally” to a magazine simply by unwrapping a gift beneath the tree.  Santa’s pricing appears to be entirely above board. And somehow, shipping is always free.

mom-reading-santa-stephanie-fierman.jpgBrand advocacy: Think of all the parents who read stories about Santa, take their children to see Santa, tuck said children into bed on Christmas Eve with the promise that Santa will soon arrive with presents… Santa has a virtual army of adults carrying his message each and every year, in the exact way that will have the greatest positive impact on each individual child.  Wow!

Long-term view of the customer relationship: Santa is committed to NPV, and everyone’s NPV is BIG.  If you’re a  kid, he wants you to tell other kids what he gave you.  He wants you to talk to your parents and grandparents about what you want.  He wants you to bring your friends to meet him.  And when you grow up, he encourages you to invite him into your home and buy extravagant gifts in his name.  Santa: the ultimate “cycle of life” promoter.

Customer targeting and personalization: If you ask Santa for a bicycle, you’re going to get a bicycle.  You might also get socks, but if a bike is your preferred method of transportation, you won’t get a wagon by mistake. Further, Santa is very likely to build the bike in the exact color you specify. 

A message of “giving back” that’s attainable and not too sanctimonious:  Be nice, get your gift.  Be naughty, and you’re on your own.  No chest-beating, no lectures, no threatening.  Everyone knows the rules, and the rules don’t change.believe-in-santa-stephanie-fierman.jpg
 
Attributes powerful enough to overcome controversy: Santa has a problem that I don’t think any other brand has ever experienced – that is, some people don’t even believe he exists! You may not like a brand like Reebok, or Microsoft, or Hanes, or whatever, but you wouldn’t think of denying their very existence on the planet. And yet, the core attributes represented by Santa transcend even this existential challenge. Even those who “know” he doesn’t exist still enjoy the gestalt of the brand.  Name me a pizza chain or a department store or TV manufacturer who can say the same.

I could go on (ultimate loyalty program, no channel conflict, efficient manufacturing, distribution and customer service support…), but you get the idea.

Though another Christmas has past, perhaps we should all look to Santa for guidance in 2010.  After all, his operation is well-loved, profitable, always in growth mode and he never loses customers.  I’d be happy with that.

For more marketing thoughts and ideas, check out my second blog at Marketing Observations Grown Daily.

Pity the poor retailer.

stephanie-fierman-grocery-shopping.jpgVandalism.  Gobs of costly employees. Shoplifting. Huge shipping costs. Rent, utilities and facilities expenses. Oh yes, and sales stink.

So the last thing the modern proprietor needs is to be compared to a storeeee innnn spaceeee… But Brandweek did just that when it published  “Why Can’t Shopping Be More Like Online Shopping?” (or “Why Retailers Should Be Acting More Webby” online*) a full-page editorial lamenting why oh why “regular” stores can’t be more like online ones.  Why bricks and mortar establishments aren’t taking “advantage” of all the stuff that “online competitors have been perfecting” for years.

Hmm.  Stores are far from perfect (my grocery store was renovated recently, and now I can’t find a darn thing) but come on.

Let’s take the points raised in this article one by one and give a quick, incomplete-but-adequate response regarding the practicality/reasonableness of each:

* Product reviews.  Where would a retailer put product reviews in a store where everyone would see them?  Who would be responsible for keeping them current? Who would be responsible for mending/replacing them if they were damaged or defaced? How could a chain retailer ensure 100% compliance across its network?

* Bestsellers. Pretty much “ditto” to the above.stephanie-fierman-online-shopping.jpg

* Search.  This one’s just mean. Stores have been experimenting with kiosks for years with mixed results.  Brands that want to experiment with shelf displays typically need to send their own people in to do it (expensive, time-consuming). The writer refers to a test that Campbell’s tried years ago. It alphabetized its soups in-store.  Result? They sold less soup.  And store maps? Who can read one of those and where the heck is it?

* Affinity. Since 10 out of 10 shoppers who walk through the door are looking for different items and would be lost if some products where re-grouped with others just because someone thought it should be that way. And if we’re talking about posting suggestions near products, see above for Reviews and Bestsellers.

* Brevity. The writer wishes there was a “convenience aisle” for check-out.  There is (15 items or less please). But when a store’s busy, you’re going to wait behind a bunch of people.  When was the last time you had to wait behind a bunch of people while checking out online?

And with this last point, I tip my hand: the presence and need for multiple (indeed, masses of) human shoppers and workers to make a store location on dry land work is the reason that my local grocer will never be like FreshDirect.  It’s not just money and profits that keep live retailers from taking on characteristics of Web shopping, as the article hypothesizes.  Some things, for all intents and purposes, are simply not able to be done well in the real world.

But if we ask why online shopping isn’t more like regular shopping, the good reason is also human interaction: a person that helps you figure out whether that sweater is black or navy. A greeter at the door who says “Hello” and thanks you for coming. A saleswoman who knows just by looking at you what size will work, and will give you an opinion on an outfit if you ask. A butcher who will tell you which cut of meat to buy when two choices look exactly alike.  A person who will give you a smile (or more) on a crummy day.  Oh, and I can go out and be home in less than an hour with the stuff I need.

Are there cranky and/or incompetent salespeople in stores?  You bet.  And websites malfunction, are often inscrutable and crash once in awhile.  Nobody’s perfect (not even technology).

So there you have it:  in real life, it takes a village to sell merchandise that one or two people can sell online – and that’s always going to be messy/ier.  Life’s not always pretty.  Cut your favorite store some slack.  Use channels and experiences for what each is good for and don’t bother wondering why reading online (or on a Kindle) can’t be more like holding a real book or vice versa.  There’s room in the universe for both.

* Dear Brandweek: You gave the article I tore out of my subscription copy an entirely different title on your website, thereby making it easier for me to find in the physical world than the online one.  Go figure.

Mojo readers know that I truly enjoy the work of two wonderful marketing/business cartoonists and like to share it now and then.  On my second blog, Marketing Observations Grown Daily, it’s David JonesAdland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp. 

I have to say that  ever since I found out that tweets carry a number of legal risks  I’ve been waiting for someone to deliver this painfully true characterization of what a meeting between Marketing and Legal just might be like… Enjoy!

stephanie-fierman-tom-fishburne-twitter-legal.jpg

Have you ever had anything in your life that you really liked – loved, even – and so when it went bad you raged, you beat your fists, you cried out in angst?!?

Then at some point, finally, you had to accept that whatever was to be, would be. As with the 7 stages of mourning, you had no choice but to find acceptance?

Well that it what I am trying to do, as a coffee-drinker and long-time sales and marketing executive, with respect to:

stephanie-fierman-schultz-starbucks1.jpgSTARBUCKS.

Yes, Starbucks. I give up. I do. Seriously. I started writing about Starbuck’s travails on a whole other blog, for cryin’ out loud, and things have only deteriorated.

Yes yes, I can hear you counter with a reminder that I like the Pike Place and the oatmeal, or that maybe the $4 breakfast combo isn’t too bad. Neither could balance a series of seemingly endless missteps that I did not think could get any worse. Then Howard Schultz rode back into town on his “You ‘executives’ need help; I’m back to bring this place back to its roots” horse and the place went entirely over the edge.

Seriously – I am like this because I love Starbucks coffee.

The problem with Schultz’s naked arrogance is that the world around this company has changed forever. The “roots” from which this company originally drew sustenance are long gone. We can all see that the company over-extended itself with respect to both its geographic footprint and prices… but where is the leadership?? Schultz has been back in that seat for nearly 2 years.

Just as I can’t blame Obama for AIG’s 2008 bonuses, I’m not going to pin firings and store closings on Schultz. He had to clean up a mess that he found upon his return. But beyond that… he spent part of his comeback interview in last July’s Portfolio magazine lavishing praise on a “magical” blended drink from Italy that was “going to be the next Frappuccino.”

Meanwhile, I can’t get a cup of coffee in under 15 minutes in the morning and have to wait for the milk to be refilled.

Since the Portfolio interview last summer, the company’s made a number of “puzzling” moves, including:stephanie-fierman-costco-starbucks.jpg
– launching the new Vivanno (starting at $2.79)
– reversing its decision to kill the breakfast sandwiches that were difficult for staff and smelly for customers
– maintaining prices despite the worst recession in living memory
laying off staff with no accompanying attempts to address the stores’ painfully long lines
– creating a new rewards program that was minimally rewarding (Costco had a better deal)
– promising to eliminate the music program that remains in full swing in New York (where the music rack is often neater and more stocked than the condiments counter)
– announcing a new instant coffee

Earlier this week, I cut to the middle of a WSJ article about Starbucks in which I spotted a quote from Schultz: “The issue at hand… is the cost of losing your core customer. It’s very hard to get them back.” I saw a spark of hope – at last, maybe the chain was going back the basics. Was it possible??

Nope.  Instead, the article says that Frappuccinos will come off the menu boards altogether, only to be hand-sold by a salesperson in what will undoubtedly be a lengthier, more harried transaction.  And in a world headed toward greater transparency, where restaurants are being forced to post calorie counts on their menu boards, Starbucks is headed in the other direction with a plan to remove prices (prices!) from their menu boards.  If you want to know what your order actually costs, a staff member will have to stock and point you to a new paper menu somewhere on the jammed counter next to the CDs. 

Ironically, Schultz’s response to all this is to start running a new ad campaign that counters the “myth” (his word) that Starbucks coffee is too expensive.  Unfortunately, nothing reinforces an existing impression that your products are probably too expensive than you deciding to hide your prices from me.

But, hey: new, “more sophisticated” test stores will have wood decor and a big wood table.

Saving core customers, making a store feel “more like a coffeehouse” – these are worthy ideas rooted in the company’s past that should remain. The thing is, a brand must sometimes re-envision its execution of such fundamental values based on the contemporary circumstances surrounding it.  Let’s say Ford had “Get a customer safely from here to there” as one of its original tenets.  Back then, that might have involved horses and buggy whips.  Today? Same concept, updated execution.

Starbucks is unquestionably struggling to see its external circumstances in a clear and honest light.  If it did, it would understand that it has so weakened its own brand that it must re-earn its customers’ trust by truly going back to square one: a good cup of coffee, at a decent price, delivered in a timely fashion. Hold the wood table. Period. The company must remind us that it is first capable of delivering on this primal promise before it can have our psychic “permission” to explore any of these pet projects (e.g. fruit drinks made from powder).

Until then, all these Vivanno-like moves will not only deepen the company’s failure, they’ll also remind us every day that the company cares more about itself than it does about its customers.

As for the 7 stages of mourning, I am trying to get my head around the possibility of reaching the final stage – Acceptance – while standing in a Dunkin Donuts, holding a latte.

As my readers know, I’ve been fixated on the concept of value for quite some time. Any random post may not seem to fit this theme, but just about all of them do: turning store returns into a great shopping experience; Visa offering upscale bathrooms to attendees at a festival; a company that lets you leave a voicemail for a person without running the risk of actually having to speak to the person (eww!).  All of these are examples of real, observable value.

money-tree.jpgFor all intents and purposes, this is my first post on the general state of marketing since the US economy imploded. I haven’t said a whole lot because I’m still forming my own opinion on what brands need to do to survive and maintain consumer loyalty. What I am ready to say is that the key is value.

I believe the key distinction now, however, is between real and perceived value. Perceived value is what I talked about when I happily acknowledge(d) buying $250 Gucci sunglasses. I am fully aware that I could derive the same amount of real value from $10 shades bought on Canal Street.  Shield eyes from sun? Check.  but I saw a level of psychic value in the brand for which I was willing to pay an enormous premium. I measured that psychic value by how the world around me recognized that value. Looking at myself in the mirror wearing Gucci sunglasses gets old quickly. But having people reinforce my purchase – every day – as I walk around the city? Priceless. Value has two ingredients: (1) the real value that delivers functionality, and (2) the “psychic premium” I’m willing to pile on top so that the world sees me (and I see myself) in a certain way.

It turns out that it is not just beauty – but also value – that is in the eye of the beholder.

This is why even people “with money” have slowed their spending… why even luxury goods are seeing a decline in sales. It’s no longer fashionable to display the same brand names that only months ago were a mark of prosperity. Those marks are now seen as an indication of greed, of phony superiority, of foolishness. It’s not cool to show you have lots of discretionary income when everyone else is suffering. That’s why Mrs. Dick Fuld is still shopping at Hermes but now demands the store place her purchases in a plain white bag. It’s why Danny Meyer says his restaurants are actually selling the same amount of wine (as before the crash) but fewer bottles, his supposition being that people have decided that a bottle sitting on the table is an unwanted signal of wealth. It’s why DeBeers’ new ad campaign attempts to position diamonds as something to be kept forever in a world filled with “disposable distractions.”cutting-credit-card-debt.jpg

Don’t get me wrong: there will always be rich people who wear big big diamonds in environments where everyone else is doing the same. That’s not going to change, but that’s also not what fueled the success of Coach and Vuitton and even Starbucks in the US: what did was millions more not-so-rich people over-extending themselves to buy that Vuitton bag (or Gucci sunglasses) because they liked the world’s reaction. These behaviors are at the heart of the “trading up” phenomenon in America. Take away both (a) the people who couldn’t afford their purchases in the first place, and (b) those who can afford expensive things but who will no longer get the thrill of everyone else’s desire, and you’ve got major, major problems. Products and services that run on perceived value need to make a new plan, Stan, and fast.

This will not happen overnight. As I said, some people who can still afford to buy status-driven things will continue to do so. Others will wean themselves off instead of going cold turkey. Read the Wall Street Journal editorial, “I Once was Chic, But Now I’m Cheap,” written by an Apple buyer who vows that his family’s next computer purchases will be PCs. The piece reads like a therapy session. The writer’s preparing for the DT’s.

I’m also not particularly convinced that this is some sort of seismic global shift in values; the current economic situation may simply repress luxury consumption for awhile. But until that happens, consumers will either live without or discover products and services that deliver more real value: and once a shopper discovers that a store brand whitens his teeth as well as your brand, he may never come back.

stephanie-fierman-treat-customers-right1.jpgDraw your loyal customers closer, now.  Add value, if you can.  Remind your customers why they buy from you.  Get them to tell others, and you may just be able to stay flat (which is, after all, the new up).  The water level is going down, gentle readers, and all that’s underneath are the brands that deliver enough usefulness to hang tough until the next tide comes in. And that could take quite some time.

Wow, Chuck E. Cheese has a problem.

The Wall Street Journal ran a half-page story in Section A yesterday that would cause any parent to run for the hills.  While CEC describes itself as a place “where a kid can be a kid,” and the cover of its 2007 Annual Report boasts “The Evolution of Fun,” it appears that the actual stores have become a nexus of bad behavior and danger.  Police all over the U.S. have been dealing with fights, guests carrying weapons and boozed-up brawls.chuck-e-cheese-stephanie-fierman.jpg

When a public official describes his local Chuck E. Cheese as “something out of a Quentin Tarantino film,” you have a serious problem.  The picture at right shows the CEC in said politician’s Milwaukee neighborhood – with an armed guard out front.

A simple glance at Google tells the Web 2.0 tale.  Of 9 front-page search results for “Chuck E. Cheese,” 5 are negative.  Of 10 front-page results for “McDonalds,” 0 are negative.

So where is the crisis management and what is the company doing about this problem?  While the company’s head of marketing describes the fights and problems as “atypical,” the risk to a corporation is not always volume-based.  Only one child or parent needs to die in one of these melees for CEC to get sued into the ether. 

Not only is (a) taking aggressive action and then (b) broadly communicating your plan the “right thing to do,” it ultimately protects the bottom line and shareholder value.  Take the saddest, most base scenario: if the company gets sued over a child’s death, it will be in far better stead with the court if it can show an active, consistent and good-faith effort to address this problem.  Such a good-faith effort could very well include suffering a short-term revenue hit by closing the most troubled locations in the near 500-location chain.  And continuing to serve alcohol in most stores is a recipe for disaster.  What percentage of revenue coming from alcohol sales – at children’s birthday parties – is worth a legal disaster that effectively cripples the company?

I frequently refer to the Tylenol poisonings in 1982 and J&J’s decision to pull all U.S. product off the shelves even after the company had been determined to have no involvement in the tragedy.  This may well be the best example of a company taking the long view in memory.

There is a range of choices CEC can take.  At the lower end of the range, management needs to take action in its own backyard to resolve these issues.  At the higher end, welcome Alderman Zielinski in as a valued advisor.  Hold a press conference with him in Milwaukee where he ceremoniously padlocks his neighborhood location while you rightfully announce that no amount of money is worth putting people’s lives in danger.  Ask Zielinski to help you create a national “Having Fun Can Be Safe” campaign nationwide. 

Wherever CEC lands on this spectrum, it had better land quickly.  Or ol’ Chuck may be toast.

Chuck E. Cheese    

stephanie-fierman-mcdonalds-china.jpg    stephanie-fierman-mcdonalds-russia1.jpg    stephanie-fierman-mcdonalds-macao.jpg    stephanie-fierman-mcdonalds-on-the-moon.jpg

I love McDonald’s.  I do.  Or to be more specific, I love the fries… and the Extra Value Meal #2.
Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking “Eegads!  A woman of your refined upbringing and delicate palate, how could you?”  Yeah, well, back off haters.  I also ate at Jean Georges in NYC this past Monday (egg caviar and the lobster) and believe that a renaissance person such as myself can burn the fat candle at both ends.

And now I have a business-related reason to love them, as well.


This month’s Fortune is the Fortune 500 issue, and it rocks – especially the article about how McDonald’s has transformed itself from an arrogant “ugly American” company into a true corporate citizen of the world.  It’s exciting to read.
Complete with photos, the lengthy article details McDonald’s “glocal” strategy.  We all remember “think global, act local.”  Now, complete with its new-agey description, the company is doing precisely that.   How’d they do it?  They changed the culture from one that considered Oak Brook, Illinois to be ground zero, to one that is entirely focused on innovation, on the new idea:  wherever that idea may come from.  And cultural change is great, blah, blah, but talk is cheap.  The distinction here is that McDonald’s rebuilt its operations in order to follow through and to ensure future progress.While McDonald’s has never been a completely hierarchical organization, the company started with the US at the top of the food chain (pardon the pun).  But as the global economy became real, the company discovered that the old ways of doing things simply weren’t working.  Not atypically (think Coke and Pepsi in India), the wake-up call came in the form of a repeated public relations gaffes in European companies where US-style menu choices were not only failing, but reinforcing McDonald’s reputation among activists as the very symbol of American imperialism.  The fact that it changed is a credit to the company.McD’s changed its operating policies and adopted a business plan based on “freedom within a framework.”  This approach gives regional and national managers considerable leeway to make their own decisions in their own markets.  And it was non-egotistical in another way:  it took a hard look at the brand and decided what was truly holy and what was not.  This is tough stuff for a company with such a rich history (I can hear CMOs everywhere throwing their bodies over their marks right now…).  The corporate logo cannot be changed, but local markets run their own advertising campaigns.  Furnishings are also customized by market.  The company fosters constant communications not only between the US and global markets, but between the non-US markets themselves.  America is not the center of  the McDonald’s universe.  The concept of delivering good food fast is:  and “good” is something that differs greatly from one place to another.

It’s tempting to wonder how is it that we thought it could be any other way, when over one billion people in the world’s second most populated country (India) doesn’t eat beef??  You adapt or you die.  Is beef what makes McDonald’s McDonald’s?  No.  But as a long-time corporate executive, I can say with 100% certainty that, at some point, smart people in that company thought that the Big Mac was McDonald’s.

Today, Europe is McDonald’s largest money maker, producing $8.9 billion in revenue, or 39% of the company’s total top line.  The US produced 36%.  And while the US produced a 2007 increase in operating income of 7%, Europe grew by 32% and Asia-Pacific shot up by 69%. 

Things have not always been so great.  Mad cow, activist demonstrations, protests in France.  But the company is now on track, and has opened communications, innovation and product pipelines that travel around the world – and frequently start far outside Illinois.  Here are a few lessons I draw from McDonald’s experience:

* Create the formal and informal pathways by which far-flung operations can communicate what their markets need and want, without fear or hesitation. 

* Tie performance appraisals and compensation to the behavior you seek.  Calculate bonuses, in part, based on the identification and adaptation of good ideas from other markets.  A Board could formally make this a factor in the CEO’s compensation, as well.

* Become a citizen of your community.  This is not unlike the advice I give when speaking on the topic of online reputation management: become a respectful member of the marketplace you care about.  After a French militant group become disgusted at the prospect of American mystery meat and ransacked a new store in 1999, the company’s European president opened the entire operation for inspection.  Staff now shows the public around kitchens, fields all questions (not just the one’s the company likes) and freely discussed the food and its ingredients.

And, as a citizen of your community, be certain that those marketplaces are run by locals.  For many years, senior managers outside the US were American expats. No more.  Delegate authority to people in and of the market you want to grow.

* Be open with your detractors.  When Greenpeace targeted McDonald’s for its use of soybeans from illegally deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest, McDonald’s agreed and asked for the organization’s help in solving the problem.  That kind of behavior wins respect – even friends – fast.

I’d like to mention that the Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about Kraft that reflects many of the same lessons McDonald’s has learned and acted upon.  You can read that article here.  In the meantime, I’m going to surf the web to see if I can buy a box of Chinese Oreos: four wafer sticks filled with vanilla and chocolate cream, coated in chocolate.

When in Rome (or France or Spain or China)…

Friends:  have you seen my new daily blog yet?  Subscribers include all the living Presidents.  Not really – but they could use some advice. 

I can’t believe I haven’t written about Mona Shaw before, because she’s become a hero to frustrated consumers everywhere who must cope with companies that have a virtual monopoly on some corner of our lives, such as the providers of trash pick-up, energy, phone and cable service – companies that hold you practically hostage (or at least it can feel that way), because you have nowhere else to go.

I had my own experience with one of these companies in the past week – Time Warner Cable – and once again I was reminded that all the marketing in the universe cannot make up for one customer service representative who treats me like I just fell off the turnip truck.

The short version is that, for over a week, I had intermittent high-speed cable service. Do you understand? No Internet connection. I mean, didn’t I come out of the womb with an Internet connection? No? Inconceivable!

I spoke to many representatives. Those that treated me like an idiot made me angry – not at the CSR, necessarily, but at Time Warner Cable. Then the second representative who had to come to my apartment in person restored my belief in humanity by fixing the problem, cleaning up after himself, validating my feelings of frustration and wishing me a good day.

Why do consumers have wild “mood swings” like this? How can one person in a call center destroy years of corporate spending and goodwill?
 
                          stephanie-fierman-on-comcast-customer-service.gif

It’s because it’s not about the product. It’s about a much deeper human need for respect, understanding and honesty.  Too many marketers think that marketing is “the fun stuff” – advertising, PR and whatnot.   Not true.  Marketing must become a student of the entire customer lifecyle, including – maybe most importantly, in many cases – the touchpoint at which the customer and company make contact. 

If you don’t put Customer Service up on a pedestal – push them, but provide solutions, too – you’re dead.

So back to Mona “The Hammer” Shaw of Bristow, VA. Certainly Mona was reacting to a particular seriess of prior events with Comcast when she entered a local office and began bashing phones, keyboards and monitors with a hammer, but her words indicate that what really made her angry was how she and her husband were treated: “[Comcast] thought [that] just because we’re old enough to get Social Security that we lack both brains and backbone.” In other words, a little respect goes a long way. Tara Hunt writes a great post on this very topic, triggered by a recent experience she had with a rental car company.

What’s most interesting to me is that the traits Tara assigns to companies that make customers happy vs. those that make them crazy once again have nothing to do with product quality. In old direct marketing-speak, decent product execution is almost “hygiene,” and consumers do understand that a product or service may not work sometimes. No one takes a hammer to your phone because your product failed: they do so because (a) you put them in a corner with no choice, (b) you duped them (Mona and her husband waited two hours in Comcast’s local office only to be told that the person for whom they were waiting had left) and (c) you treated them poorly.

Companies in these one-choice industries are exactly the ones who have the opportunity to delight customers right into buying additional services. So why is the reality too often the opposite? Where is the rest of the organization when a CSR takes a call?  Is that person adequately trained and ready? If not (and that’s an enterprise-wide responsibility),  treating a customer poorly will overwhelm a new-and-improved widget or ad campaign every time.

If CMOs and CEOs don’t focus on “experience delivery” and include relationship-oriented customer service metrics when they calculate marketing ROI, they’re missing a vital part of the success equation.

Please check out my new daily blog at http://www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.blogspot.com, and consider subscribing for quick takes on news and trends of the day.

The Short Life of the Chief Marketing Officer
This blog would be remiss if it did not provide a link to the most recently quoted article focused on the plight of the CMO.  This piece does not cover a lot of new ground, but I do give it credit for circling around what I’ve always said is the heart of the matter:  that is, fuzzy, mismatched expectations between the CEO, the organization, its stakeholders and the CMO him/herself.

 If I had to explain what I mean in one (two?) sentences, I would say that some equate marketing and, by extension, the role of the CMO, to “branding” and advertising.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, many understand the CMO to be a senior business person first, with a core expertise in the entire marketing mix:  one that should be at the CEO’s senior management table when matters concerning the customer are discussed.

If I sound like I have a bias, I do:  I am in the latter camp, not the former.  I do not mean to say, however, that either one is “right.”  Any point along this spectrum can be perfectly fine if it is mutually-agreed and adhered to by the CEO, the board, the organization and the CMO in question.  In good times, and bad.  And there lies the rub.


The New Corporate Intranet, Web 2.0 Style

Serena Software, a vendor of enterprise change management software, is replacing its existing intranet with Facebook on the front-end, attached to a CMS on the back-end.  The implications of this are pretty interesting.  I just hope that Serena eliminates Facebook’s “Change status” function, lest the company get a lot of “In meeting”  “On phone” “In meeting” “On phone” “On phone in bathroom…”



Tiffany Goes Into Business With Swatch
Swatch is setting up a company that will use Tiffany branding and designs to sell watches that will be made and distributed through its global distribution network.  Hopefully, this is a genius move that reflects the melding of mass affluent and luxury purchasing trends around the world.



Newspapers Still Wield Some Influencing Power – Online
Newspapers are still powerful, or are at least still read by those who are:  Mediamark Research reports that readers of newspaper sites are 52% more likely to be categorized as “influencers” than non-newspaper Web site readers.  Good info, for those planning media budgets for ’08 who may think that newspapers are on their way out.



Nielsen Releases 10 Most Popular Lists of 2007
GoViral Ranks Top 5 Viral Advertisements of 2007

I guess I’d vote for the RayBan spot (3.2M YouTube views since May) but ONLY because the Blendtec ad (2.7M views since July) to me is, well, royalty and should be on a list all its own…



I Really Hope My Brain Does NOT Always Work Like Google
As has been previously reported in this blog, Google tends to report popularity.  NB: If what’s popular is also truthful, I’m all for it.


Companies Should Keep and Forward Old Phone Numbers
This is a great tip that seems so simple, but we all know that companies do not always follow this advice.  If a customer pulls out a dusty old catalog and is ready to order a Christmas gift, be sure she can find you.