How is it that company after company trips itself up in the social media space?  GoDaddyAflacChryslerNestleKenneth ColeQantas.

On and on, over and over. And it’s not just about how to avoid a problem in the first place, but also how to handle an issue once it arises (which in and of itself can generate scorn or admiration from consumers).

There’s lots of advice on the Web for marketers hoping to protect their brands from a social media bruising, and I’ll offer my two cents here with 10 tips for avoiding social media’s banana peel.

BEFORE…

1. Be honest about your brand’s vulnerabilities when deciding to use social media and its tools.  It is smart marketing – not “negativity” – to have an unblinkingly honest view of your brand and to protect its soft spots.  Paging McDonald’s, come in McDonald’s…

2. Have a contingency plan ready.  It’s not a question of how brilliant you are.  Things just… happen. Especially in social media.  You simply cannot anticipate every person’s reaction and what s/he might do or say.  See:  Chapstick. Or Gap.

3. Marketers strive to make their messaging relevant and timely.  I have often thought about how I might make a brand’s message relevant at holiday time (interesting Christmas themed surveys, etc.).  Some topics, however, are too serious to be co-opted by a marketer.  Natural disasters?  No thank you. Deaths?  ‘Don’t think so.  I don’t care what the rationale is. This. Is. A. Bad. Idea.  Poster child: Kenneth Cole.

4. Please be sure your left hand knows what your right hand is doing. Social media is not an activity unrelated to the rest of the company and its activities or circumstances.  My fave example: Qantas [A great tweet from @kiwi_kali:  “Somewhere at Qantas HQ a middle-aged manager is yelling at a Gen Y social media ‘expert’ to make it stop.”].

AND IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN THE STEELY GRIP OF A SOCIAL MEDIA MESS…

5. Respond quickly.  You are “right” and others are in the wrong?  No one cares. Your brand is now being used and abused on the Web?  Don’t insult your customers in response.  End a social media crash-and-burn fast with an apology, if that’s appropriate, or some other move that will disarm the bomb.  See: Nestle v. American Red Cross by @hanelly.

6. Once the immediate crisis has passed, circle back with critics that really matter to you and your business – preferable offline. Take the conversation out of public channels to keep from fanning the flames and to give the critic the attention that s/he deserves.

7. Protect your brand assets.  I harken back to what I learned long ago at Citi Credit Cards – the name and the physical product are precious.  One never bends, breaks or otherwise violates the actual plastic in ads or anywhere else.  Just because the Web isn’t as tactile, per se, doesn’t mean the rules of brand stewardship do not apply.  The Netflix fumble over “Qwikster” was inexcusable, in my opinion.  The company threw away years of brand equity, picked a name, in particular, that didn’t have a fabulous past, AND failed to register the @Qwikster Twitter handle.  That was already registered to a dude whose avatar was Elmo the Muppet smoking pot. Can you say “fireable offense?” Totally rad, dude.

8. If one staff member or representative goes off a cliff, don’t beat yourself up too badly – it doesn’t mean that social is “bad.”  Tell your CEO that (to borrow a famous line from comedian Ron White) social media doesn’t fix stupid.  See:  Best Buy and Chrysler.

9. Do whatever you need to do to ensure that history does not repeat itself. One social media screw-up is plenty.

10.  If it’s humanly possible, make lemonade from lemons.  Domino’s (see #8 above) did a phenomenal job of transforming a stupid human trick into a positive corporate opportunity.  This isn’t always possible, but a little humanity and sincerity can go a long way. In Domino’s case, living through this episode was most certainly a mile marker on their road to using social to fundamentally change the company.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but it’s a start.  Now get out there and don’t let your CEO kill any animals on video!

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A version of this post was originally published by the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG).

 

“Why can’t you be more like your big sister?”

Does this approach ever work? Not too often. What such a comparison can do is produce a sibling that spends years trying to be someone he’s not, losing ground, rather than trying to identify and build on his own strengths.

I have this same sensation when I read articles heralding the arrival of the latest new Web or mobile retail phenomenon, or a new daily deals site, or a site where you can subscribe to your own mix of coffee or underwear.  These are all wonderful, but must digital advancements mean a fast death knell for brick and mortar stores?

It certainly hasn’t in banking.  When I was at Chase in the mid-90’s, many believed that online banking would spell a painful death for branches.  Profitable customers wouldn’t have the time or inclination to actually go somewhere and all the “good” business would move online.  Branches would be left to old ladies with passbooks. The first was new and good; the latter, old and tired.

What happened was very different, and banks that neglected their branch networks – letting the locations get old and crummy – ultimately had to scramble to restore their luster or lose business.

It seems to me that the same thing is happening in retail:  many stores have decided that they are “less than,” that they’ll never again be any good and that they should focus on the hopeless task of trying to be more like the Web.

Now don’t get me wrong: there are advantages to making stores more “Web-like” – Pacific Sunwear gives salespeople iPads so they can create outfits for shoppers and order out-of-stock items fast, and Brookstone is using tablets to demonstrate robots that can be controlled by an app and (soon) to deliver remote checkout. Ron Boire, Brookstone’s CEO is moving quickly on these initiatives because he’s concerned that “improvements in e-commerce will accelerate consumers’ migrations to the Web.”

But at a more strategic level, merchants that singularly obsess about being more like their Web siblings will fail – while they simultaneously stop investing in labor and let stores go downhill.  Good luck with that.

No, if bricks & mortar is going to thrive (or at least exist for awhile) it’s got to get its own mojo back.  That’s right: stores need to go out there and kick some Internet a*!@&!.

I mean, come on: If rolling over and playing dead is not an option, let’s get excited.  Let’s roll around in it.  Who are your real customers? When was the last time you actually listened to any of them? What experiences can a physical location deliver that either cannot exist or are “less than” online?

Apple has certainly delivered a new-world version of retail magic.  Its stores command the highest revenue per square foot in retail, and it’s about to open its largest location in the world in New York.

While folks claim that no other retailer could do what Apple has done, Ron Johnson says it’s the basics of experience that made the biggest difference.  In Apple’s case, one of the key elements of this experience is that salespeople don’t work on commission, so they can honestly recommend the best solution for a consumer and build a relationship – not a one-off sale that may leave a shopper unhappy.  Johnson urges all bricks & mortar entities need to “start from scratch and figure out how to create fundamentally new types of value for customers.” He openly states that the specific ways he plans to do that at JCPenney may be different than Apple, but the principle of uniquely “enriching customers’ lives” will remain the same.  Here are some tiny examples of brick & mortar stores actively searching for Web-proof transcendental moments:

Best Buy is now standing at the center of a changed universe.  Shoppers come visit to check out gadgetry, then check prices and buy on their smartphones while standing in the aisles.  Individuals new to cameras or DVD players can learn all they need to know online before ever setting foot in a store (so long impulse buying).  Form factor itself is eliminating the need for “place”: music and movies stream where you are, rather than you having to go to them (RIP faves Blockbuster and Tower Records). The question is, what is the retailer going to do about it? How can the chain deliver a sense of intimacy and comfort that will always be missing online? Can it boost its angels-devils strategy to increase the likelihood of getting the “right” shoppers in the door? Are there benefits that might only exist in the stores, like a richer version of the buy back program? How about incentives to wander?

Also in a high-price, high-anxiety category, Foot Locker is applying an “intimacy” tactic at the door.  A shopper accosted by a “How may I help you?” may mumble something and end up standing in front of a display not knowing what to do.  Having associates ask “What kind of shoe are you looking for?” has been a subtle change, but one that the company’s CEO says “is more likely to start a conversation” and result in a sale and increased loyalty.

Old Navy’s target is moms in their thirties.  The chain made the aisles wider, which is nice, but its new stores have “quick change pods” (or changing rooms) in the center and spread out for easy try-ons.  That’s awesome.

Nordstrom groups merchandise together so shoppers can see and try on whole outfits (which they do). Try that online.

These are all small steps in the right direction.  The bottom line is that there is no single solution: finding key consumer moments of truth takes a commitment to truly observing the shopper’s life and transforming the resulting insights into powerful moments of delight. The Web’s a killer, but it is not an option to put your head down and surrender. Sometimes, nothing beats a personal touch: stores need to go back to their roots and reinvent this crucial advantage for contemporary times.

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A version of this post was originally published by the Marketing Executives Networking Group.

 

For the last 3 years or so, I have ordered holiday gifts online from Dancing Deer. My mom and I send a little something to the doctors, friends and associates who make our lives a whole lot better throughout the year.

I have also told a number of friends about the site and the (good) quality of Dancing Deer products.

Such loyalty produces frequent emails from the company, particularly around holiday time.  I take the time to look at them all.  Based on the particular promotion and the number of days ’til Christmas, the offers can differ: free shipping or 20% or 30% off your purchase, for example. From the numerous emails and codes available online, Dancing Deer has trained me to wait to for what I think will be its “best” offer.

From my previous experience, that looked like it’d be a 30% off promotion expiring on December 4. The website copy reads, “As one of our most valued customers, we invite you to participate in this exclusive private sale.” I kept track of this email in my inbox, conscious every day that it was there somewhere.  Being a natural procrastinator, I collected all of my mother’s requests on the last day of the promotion and sat at the computer for around 45 minutes selecting products and pecking in the delivery information and gift messages for eight recipients.

Just before I submitted the order, I thought I’d take a quick look at the Web to see if there were any juicier codes available.  Now, I love this game, and will sit for 30 minutes or more looking for codes for high-ticket items.  This was not that.  I spent maybe 5 minutes… and found a code good for 10% off plus free shipping which trumped the “valued customer” discount.

This, gentle readers, bummed me out (not like world hunger bums me out, but you know). I spend time with this brand throughout the year, I recommend it, I put important gifts in its hands, and for what? So they can waste my time by thanking me with a “special offer” that any consumer could easily beat with a publicly available code?

I loathed the idea of calling the company, thereby wiping out the convenience and solitude offered by the Web, but I did.  I explained my position to a representative, and asked her if, under the circumstances, she could do any better for me than a deal that was available to anyone with a pulse.  I’ve written entire posts about customer service  (so I won’t dwell on it here), but let’s just say that having a random person named Emily fail to look up my record and remark that 10% plus free shipping was “a pretty good offer” didn’t do a whole lot for how disappointed I felt.  I asked for a supervisor, who listened to my story, apologized and found me a better code (thank you, Matt A.).  The End.

In the business of marketing, a lot is written about identifying and taking care of your best customers.  I kinda hoped it would be obvious that this should include offering these shoppers actual benefits, but perhaps not.  A company that is inauthentic and careless with loyal customers is perhaps worse off than one that does nothing:  Dancing Deer raised my expectations, made me feel good for giving it my business and then kind of sucker-punched me.

That’s no way to treat gingerbread-addicted family.

 

Beyaz Weird As Possible

June 6th, 2011

Birth control ads are strange. Exhibit A: the Nuvaring ad (see HERE) where the gals take off their clothes and climb into a hot tub with their yellow bathing suits on. Each woman has a… each has a number… and… and one has a bathing cap… and then the hot tub spins like a ride at Disneyland… and then there’s a song that makes me hear Satan’s voice urging me to kill (Mommy!).

I don’t know what’s going on, other than understanding that I better use Nuvaring because remembering to take a pill every day is simply too much for me. At least I think that’s what is says.

So in a land of weird, one must rise extra high to be noticed – and I think Beyaz overshot by a mile. Check out the ad (see below or HERE):



The “it’s good to have choices” positioning is fine, but to put women in a shopping setting, where they can simply choose the men, educations, homes and discretionary incomes of their dreams off a shelf at any time – with as much thought and planning as picking a bottle of ketchup – is offensive. And what was the general idea here: that because women understand shopping the best, we can make birth control a section of a department store to help the message hit home?

Then there are the choices themselves. The home the female shopper chooses is a sweet little purple house, with a car out front that looks like it’s from the 50s. Is that where women belong, or when women were “best” – in the 50s? Have we already failed if we don’t want the picket fence?

And the stork: the only “selection” that tries to literally follow the woman once it is rejected (a stalking stork, if you will). All the women in this ad are still in their 20s: are young women supposed to have babies… or else? Note there are no “and” equations in this ad. It’s all about the “or,” as in grad school or a baby. None of the shoppers leave with more than one item.

or me, though, the most disappointing episode takes place over in the Significant Other section of the store. First of all, the store only carries men in inventory. Being homosexual is not a choice in this retail establishment. Then comes the best part: a woman standing in front of a man (under glass…), only to have another female come along with a smirk on her face and snatch the man off the shelf.

That’s nasty and cruel. And pits women against one another.

The site TresSugar.com does a great job breaking down the ad, scene by scene, object by object. Take a look if you get the chance.

Even in the fantasy world of flying snacks, sodas that never make you fat and perfect hair, I think this ad is over the top in its disdain for women.

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This is an encore presentation of a blog post originally published on Stephanie Fierman: Marketing Daily.

A friend of mine, Stephen Denny, has written a new book, Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple The Goliath In Your Industry. The chapter titled, “Winning in the Last Three Feet” plays to my particular devotion to brands that understand that the moment of contact with a consumer is the most precious in the entire marketing lifecycle, or – put differently – that all the advertising and promotion in the universe cannot overcome the true experience at the point at which a consumer must make a decision.

A Wall Street Journal article recently had me thinking about the same thing. “Tracking the Loyalty of Coffee Drinkers” is interesting, because the research study on which the piece is based doesn’t study its navel by exploring why consumers “roam” between proprietors; it just captures how much wandering people do.

The author of study, Dave Jenkins of CustomersDNA, says, “ Getting that customer to come one more time to their restaurant and one less time to their competitor’s is how the battle will be won or lost.” One more for me, one less for you. Over and over and over. So simple. But how often do senior marketers think like this – about the trees vs. the entire forest?

Denny tells a great story of one such marketer, Mandy Torvick, at Adobe. With Thanksgiving weekend fast approaching Mandy was ready for Black Friday: she had a big category-exclusive ad buy ready to go with Adobe’s largest big box retailer in the U.S., and she was dreaming of turkey. Then the retailer came back at the last minute and said the ad space would instead be given to Microsoft.

Now, I’ve been a businessperson a long time, and know plenty of talented people who would have absolutely freaked out. Frrrrreeeeaked out. Instead, Mandy viewed the event as an opportunity. She could not control the altered landscape, but she could control what she and Adobe did about it. Mandy took some of the advertising money and used it to send guerrilla teams into the retailer’s stores to stand in the aisles and enthusiastically demonstrate the product. And there were plenty of shoppers in the aisles, of course, because Microsoft’s advertising and discounting got them there.

Adobe’s lovingly planned, detailed holiday ad plan went up in smoke, but Mandy wasn’t focused on the advertising: she was focused on the sale.

What is the Web equivalent of this? And I don’t mean that sites ought to be easier to use, or faster to navigate: I mean really, really at the last minute. I started thinking about this after I bought my first yoga mat last week.

With no loyalty to any particular seller, I did what I always do: start with Google, learn about products and pricing and then start hunting around for discount codes. Gaiam.com had me at hello. I was familiar with the brand, its website helped me understand all the choices, it sold the extra-thick mat I wanted and – cool! – the product even came with a free yoga DVD. Free yoga video is all over the Web, but the DVD was a nice, thoughtful touch. I had nearly completed the payment form when I decided to do just a little last minute checking. YogaAccessories.com was selling the same mat, advertising a deal on shipping and – with the discount code I found – saved me enough money to make dropping Gaiam worth it.

The end.

Actually, that wasn’t the end: a friend asked me to let him know if I liked the mat. Once the mat had my approval, the easiest thing to do was to simply hand him the YogaAccessories.com invoice right out of the box so he could see the name of the website, the item number and all.

Score?  YogaAccessories: 2.   Gaiam : 0.

And not a peep from Gaiam. No pop-up with a last-ditch discount offer, no “research study” request – nothing. And I made sure to give them a shot, keeping the same browser window open and going directly to YogaAccessories.com from Gaiam.com.

That’s scary. In a split second, Gaiam lost not only two sales but also two enthusiast buyers – with friends.

The sale that Gaiam lost is a drop in a very big bucket. Retailers lose $18B a year to shopping card abandonment every year, and my personal experience reflects the top two reasons cited by millions of shoppers: shipping charges and a desire to comparison shop. Worse, more tech-savvy shoppers are even more likely to drop a transaction when it’s nearly completed.

But this is about far more than the “25 ways to ensure shopping cart abandonment doesn’t happen to you” lists you can find all over the Web (thought this is a good list, fyi), or whether or not you re-market to a lost shopper. This is about you being Microsoft, and Mandy being right there in front of your customer 24/7, offering another – and sometimes better – option.

So what’s a site to do? I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts, but the #1 most important thing that an online retailer must do is follow the path of your shopper. Every day. Make sure you have a grasp of what’s happening in your competitive space on a day-to-day basis. Who’s doing what? Who’s running specials or offering free shipping? Some of this can be designed into algorithms, but nothing beats a human review comparing your presentation to your shopper’s other choices.

Second, a retailer must test mercilessly. Who are your customers and what are the habits? How price elastic are they? Where are your core segments and (a) what are you doing for them right now on your site, and (b) what are you doing for them all year ‘round, to help built loyalty and perhaps a little price insulation? You’ve got to understand what you are and are not willing to do and for whom. Not all shoppers are created equal, for example and – while you have your target populations – some may not be “worth” the effort. How many Stephanies are out there, for example, willing to spend 10-15 minutes gaming discount codes, with no history of purchasing yoga-related product? Can I ever be saved? Probably not. Should I be on the top of your target list, relatively speaking? Probably not.

But all this is unknown without a solid, day-to-day grasp on (and primary research about) your target segments and their behavior.

There are some interesting new tools out there than can help. Dynamic serving of both content and offers from companies like Monetate is exciting new work… but you still need to know what to serve to whom. And what offers your competition is promoting. And when to stand in the aisles to grab one more transaction. To win… in the last 3 clicks.

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A version of this post was originally published on the Marketing Executive Networking Group‘s blog, MENGBlend.

A couple days ago, I returned a dress to Kenneth Cole in NYC. Clearly criminal behavior, based on the way I was treated. The staff seemed almost surprised that I had the receipt AND the credit card associated with it.

Once the associate began the return, he asked for my phone number. I declined to provide it. He said “they” needed it, or he couldn’t process the return. Since the card associations (in this case Mastercard) do not require a phone number for a return, the “they” in these cases is clearly the retailer. But in some cases – where providing a phone number is the shortest path between me and my money – I provide a phone number. Sometimes it’s mine and sometimes, not so much.

Since I squeaked out a weak protestation, I suppose, the associate snarkily replied, “Are you having a good morning, miss?”

Grr.

I said yes.  What I really wanted to say was, “Why? Does Kenneth Cole require a phone number AND a good attitude for a return?”

How much business do these companies need to lose to Internet shopping before they realize that they’re going to have to make a face-to-face transaction really, really good?

Which reminds me of another experience I had recently at Best Buy. I bought a not-unusual item for about $30. I paid cash. Simple.

‘Turns out the item did not have the feature I needed, so I went back to the store a few days later to return it. I had not opened the blister pack, etc. – the item was pristine.

The rep at Returns asked for my phone number. Then I think she may have asked for my email address. Since I use an email specifically for this purpose (cataloguers and the like) I gave it to her. I did ask why it was relevant for a return, and again it was the mysterious “they” who needed it.

Sidebar: Do you think there’s a “They Club” somewhere where all the theys hang out, eat candy and plot their next diabolical scheme? The TSA could run it.

So anyway, the associate has my phone number and my email and I’m holding on, I can do this, go with the flow. Then she asked for my driver’s license.

This is a problem.

My driver’s license for a $30 item? My driver’s license number is not a retailer’s business, particularly when I make a (low-value) purchase with cash. I don’t recall anyone at the store when I purchased the item having any trouble taking my cash: they only appear to have a problem giving it back.

But this post isn’t about the fact that fraud and theft have driven some retailers to do crazy lengths and that they clearly believe an employee can’t do hard things like ask for a driver’s license only for items priced at more than, say, $100.

No, this post is about creating an environment where employees and customers feel welcome and understood.

This “they” thing is pervasive – and completely unnecessary. What it means is that associates are either trained to say “they” – which would be super obnoxious – or they’re not trained for pushback from the consumer at all, and squeeze out a “they” because they truly do not know what to say. In either scenario, the retailer has pitted some innocent, often 19-year-old kid against an unhappy customer, transforming this stranger across from me into the faceless “they” – The Corporation.  And no harried consumer appreciates this when s/he’s trying to get something done.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The associate is human, the shopper is human. Why aren’t employees trained to diffuse the situation but making eye contact and saying something like (insert head shake here): “I know, but Best Buy requires me to do it. I’m really sorry.” Or replace the “sorry” with an “I know it can be annoying.” Or “I know it seems silly and I will try to get you out of here as quickly as possible.”

Something – anything – that reinforces and reminds the customer that the employee is not the company. We all do things we don’t like to do: when a sincere rep looks me in the face sympathetically and says anything close to the phrases above (and the smart ones do), it is a far warmer transaction for both parties.  Then we’re in this together.

And let’s not forget the employee’s feelings too, by the way: how does Best Buy think this rep feels about her job if half of it is occupied by unhappy shoppers? So the company is whittling away at morale by tossing these kids out on the floor without the appropriate “human interaction” training, as well.

Once again I am inclined to say… Grrr.

So the next time, gentle reader, an employee says that “they” need you to swab the inside of your mouth to prove that you’re you, take a deep breath, consider writing an email or letter to the retailer and assess all of your shopping options. Fortunately for us, there are more choices than ever.

Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and like to share their work now and then.  On my second blog,  it’s David Jones‘ Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s a cartoon from Tom.  I like to think of it as…  sort of a budding Internet mogul run amok. Enjoy!

Groupon Groupies

January 24th, 2011

Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and like to share their work now and then.  On my second blog,  it’s David Jones‘ Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

This entry focuses on a favorite topic of mine: group buying blindness.  In fact, I thought it perfectly echoed a post I wrote recently titled “Now with More Groupon!! Gets Whites Whiter!” Or maybe my post echoed his post…

You get the idea.

Enjoy.

Remarks of Senator Robert F. Kennedy to the Cleveland City Club, Cleveland, Ohio – April 1968

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race.  The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by his assassin’s bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

“Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs.”

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some looks for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear; violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Robert F. Kennedy
Cleveland City Club
April 5, 1968

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.