Category Archives: Social Media

The Secret to Great Customer Service

Posted on

A pair of recent customer service experiences (one very good, one not so good) inspired this post.  (If you’re in a hurry, my POV is at the end.)  If you stick around, I’ve included some juicy case studies.

Happy Customer

These experiences made me wonder – what is the essence of good customer service? Do those famous over-the-top examples make good financial sense?

I’m no customer service professor, and this subject has been covered countless times, but I do have my opinion (and this is my blog /bully pulpit) – but customer satisfaction does not seem directly related to dollar value.

Customer Service has always been a point of distinction for those making The Customer Is Always Right truly a focus of their strategy

  • Nordstrom,  LL Bean and others have long been traditional standard-bearers for ‘no questions asked’ service
  • However, abuse has caused even highly-regarded companies to adjust their policies

https://thearmchairmba.com/2013/09/27/but-what-if-the-customer-is-a-big-jerk/

Social Media has amplified the impact of customer service, both good and bad

  • Missteps are more visible and make companies vulnerable to public shaming or boycotts, or minimally distraction, regardless of a complaint’s merits

For a great set of examples of service gone bad, check out this article.   If you want to focus on one, I personally found the Amy’s Bakery example (#2) delicious to read.:

https://blog.kissmetrics.com/customer-service-mistakes/

  • Good deeds are similarly great opportunities for spreading positive stories – circulated via social media, they often create value much greater than paid advertising.
  • Here are a few great examples.   Check out the Netflix live chat example (#3) on the Helpscout link – – very fun.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stanphelps/2014/08/01/heroic-customer-service-by-a-senior-executive-at-warby-parker/

http://www.businessinsider.com/zappos-customer-service-crm-2012-1

http://www.helpscout.net/blog/remarkable-customer-service/

Two recent personal experiences shaped my opinions of companies.

Carryon

  • My carry-on bag’s handle failed after hundreds of trips. The brand is High Sierra. I contacted them online and explained my issue, with photos (as they requested). My goal was to find a repair shop. I had mentioned that I ideally would like a fix by the weekend as I was traveling on Monday morning. It was Thursday.


BoxHandle

  • On Saturday morning I received, by FedEx, a large box containing a replacement handle, with a few extra zipper pulls thrown in (which came in handy).   A few minutes and I had the handle replaced and was good to go. At zero cost. Fantastic!
  • The brand is High Sierra. High Sierra.  High Sierra. They are now owned by Samsonite. Kudos to Samsonite for allowing this business unit to take care of customers in a highly personal and attentive way.  High Sierra.
  • I have 2 other bags from High Sierra and you can bet that they get right of first refusal on the fourth.

3.84

  • A recent Avis rental came with no washer fluid, which I bought later for $3.84. In returning the car I requested that this amount be taken off my bill. In similar situations with other companies the response was usually immediately taking one of my rental days off the bill and getting me on my way.
  • In the case of Avis, it eventually required the attention of 4 Avis people.  The agent receiving cars didn’t have authority; the front desk clerk didn’t have authority; the manager had authority but couldn’t make a system input; finally the 4th employee was able to input the solution. Total time for a $4 issue? 20 minutes.
  • And the solution? A $10 voucher, which means they didn’t actually refund anything.
  • Worse, this delay caused me to miss an opportunity for an earlier flight.

So, what is the secret to customer service?

BE CUSTOMER CENTRIC. Simple as that.

  • Let the customer know they have been heard – this alone is more important than any dollar amount of a solution.
  • Treat the customer like a human. Stay off the scripts if possible.  You don’t have to pretend to be Captain Kirk (see Netflix example above) but a personal touch is incredibly effective.
    (By the way, insider tip:  as a customer, treating any customer service person or clerk or waiter or sales person etc like a human being almost always yields positive experiences).
  • Demonstrate that the customer is priority #1, company is priority #2.  Avis was clearly all about Avis.
  • Delays in response exacerbate frustration.  Speedy response shows that you are listening and can nip negative feelings in the bud.
  • Going above and beyond has significant upsides – you want to be on the ‘best customer service’ blog post, not the ‘disaster stories’.  And a few well-placed good deeds can get a ton of mileage (see links above).

HighSierra

I would have been satisfied with a recommendation for a good repair shop for my bag, and High Sierra (High Sierra. High Sierra.) went above and beyond, to my delight.  As a result, they have the opportunity for word-of-mouth recommendations from unexpected places, including people like me. (High Sierra!)

And Avis? They worked to win a little battle, and lost a round in the war.  They will get less consideration from me next time around.  Try Harder?  Good idea.

A Wilde Affair – 5 Lessons for Marketers

By now you’ve seen Chevy Sales Executive Rikk Wilde’s cringe-worthy presentation of the World Series MVP Award to the SF Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, as reporter Erin Andrews and Commissioner Bud Selig both looked to be trying to flag down a cab.

Wilde

Not surprisingly, this clip immediately lit up the Twitterverse and generated a remarkable amount of media attention (and references to Chris Farley, with whom Mr. Wilde was frequently compared).

Farley2

But perhaps unexpectedly, rather than distancing itself, GM took advantage of it with a wink and a smile, embracing Mr. Wilde’s performance and his instant classic utterance “Technology and Stuff”. Within a few days of the event, there was a full-page ad in USA Today playfully referencing the World Series MVP ceremony.

T&S-tweet

Chevy Tweet

T&S - USAToday

USA Today Full-page ad

So of course, The Armchair MBA has decided to spoil the moment by trying to extract object lessons from this episode.

And there are clear lessons from L’affaire Wilde that today’s marketers need to keep in mind:

1) Expect the unexpected.   Speed is key, so be ready.

2) Serendipity can be your friend – be open to improvisation to marketing plans.

  • Even the best plans need to be able to stretch sometimes to take advantage of marketplace events
  • The Chevy Colorado pickup had just (Oct. 3) been named in a large airbag recall, which was limiting sales
  • The publicity surrounding Mr. Wilde’s presentation drew new attention to the Colorado, and the recall went from front burner to a secondary issue, at least temporarily

3) Consumers like authenticity and the little guy.   And they hate to be manipulated.

  • Wilde’s memorable performance, while not pretty, was also clearly not slick corporate-speak, and therefore broke through the clutter, arguably much better than if a senior executive, or GM CEO Mary Barra herself, had presented the award
  • We will use ‘little guy’ in the figurative sense. Mr. Wilde, by virtue of his stammering, sweating performance, reminded us that we’re all human, and if faced with a global TV audience, might be a little nervous ourselves.  So in an unplanned way, this helped connect the audience to the product.
  • This was 100% authentic. If it turned out that it was at all scripted, it would have backfired on GM in a huge way
  • (As a side point, apparently Mr. Wilde was selected to give the award mostly because he was a long-time Royals fan and his management thought it would be a thrill for him — even though he was obviously not a media trained spokesperson.  Good for you, Chevy!)

4) Consumers like humility and a sense of humor

  • “Technology and Stuff” was a perfect way for GM to gently poke fun at itself
  • In contrast, denying or attempting to spin would have been futile

5) Branding is very powerful for people too

  • Unless you, as new parents, know with 100% certainty that your precious child is headed for a career path involving heavy metal bands or the adult film industry, for heaven’s sake, do NOT name him Rikk Wilde.

…and Botswana makes it 100 Countries!

In a shameless act of self-promotion, this announces that as of today, The Armchair MBA has now reached 100 countries served!    A sort of crazy milestone considering its quite humble and uninformed beginnings, some 70 posts and 2 1/2 years ago.

100 Countries

 

But beyond cocktail party braggadocio, what does this say about the state of blogging?  Or, who cares?

First, some info.
Below is a map of where my readers have come from. Darker colors indicate more readers.
– Clearly a bias toward English-speaking countries but plenty from elsewhere.
– While the US is by far the strongest reader source, average daily readership comprises about 5 or 6 countries, which shift daily.
– Notable in their presence:  China (a single rogue reader!), Botswana (which got me over the 100 hump today) and Papua New Guinea (only because I can’t not think about the combination of loincloths and laptops).
– Totally expected absences:  Cuba, Russian satellites, Iran, N. Korea, and most of Africa.  Is there media repression?  Of course.

While I have a strong base of followers (thank you!), most readership is not subscribed and comes from 2 sources:  LinkedIn (on one page or another) and online search results.  The latter group accounts for the majority of non-English country visitors.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 3.14.30 PM

 Lessons learned?
– The global pull of The Armchair MBA has been surprising.  Part of the reason is that topics often have global relevance; one more support point for the theory that borders are increasingly irrelevant as it relates to business news/learning/sharing.
Posts have long tails – – there is a bump in initial readership but even the oldest posts get recurring views.  The internet is a great accumulator.   Full disclosure:  I recently experimented by taking a SEO approach and including all African nations in text form — it has resulted in some visits from Africa, but to the point below, it is slow.  But it is possible to proactively solicit traffic.
Propagation is steady but slow – – but even if initial readership is modest, much value is still retained as a post transitions from ‘news’ to ‘reference’TAMBA-credential
Having a blog like this pays nothing, but it does have its benefits:
Provides an outlet for my voice and is encouragement to continue to explore, think and opine
– Occasionally merits a media credential, enabling privileged access to trade shows/seminars and continued learning for myself and for my clients
Solicits feedback and additional points of view, often from some surprising sources
– And, every once in a blue moon, provides validation in the form of a ‘Like’.  Sort of like Facebook, only with much more work (including checking my sources).

Thanks for reading.  And thank you, Botswana.

 

A Non-Techie’s Guide to the Internet Commerce Trade Show (IRCE)

Posted on

This year was the 10th anniversary of the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) and my first year of attendance.

IRCE logo

Trying to neatly summarize this sort of confab without a experience as an e-commerce operator is sort of like assuming you can translate Portuguese based on having watched the World Cup.  The show was large, chaotic and alien – sort of like walking into 100 Star Wars bars simultaneously.

So while I have decent e-retailing experience, I will not attempt to make sense of all of this.

But I do have some observations.

E-Commerce is based on a few simple objectives, not too different from the marketing funnel used for any other product marketing, but with different terminology:
– gain the right customers’ attention  (‘engagement’, ‘click thru’, ‘open rate’)
– encourage purchase (‘conversion’)
– efficiently delivering (‘fulfillment’, ‘final mile’)
– establish a relationship (‘customer experience’)
– encourage repeat purchase (‘loyalty’, ‘retention’)
– encourage WOM, referrals (‘evangelism’)
– etc.

Simple, no?  I mean, we all shop online, how difficult could it be?

Well, let’s illustrate some of the complexities using a typical grocery store as the template.  Imagine running this store.

This is a store where:
the store itself serves the entire world — yet it needs to be built to serve the right volume of customers profitably
– finding the store requires a guide — yet the description that will lead to your store changes every 6 months
– your most loyal customers can be lost if a competitor offers to carry the groceries to the car for free
one of your big vendors (i.e. ISP) can have a bad day and you are unable to open, with no control
competitors can pop up virtually next door – instantly – and go away just as fast
– about 4 in 10 customers fill up their carts and then exit the store, leaving the cart in the aisle
a person with bad intent could lock the doors of your store –  from thousands of miles away
your loyal shoppers are barraged with promotional messages from stores right next door – and around the world
your competitors’ customers don’t necessarily live nearby – – but you still have to find them
– some of your competitors sell products to an enormous store that’s in every market, and which sells them cheaper (hint: starts with an ‘A’)
– and all of this is changing at light speed — Yikes!

On the other hand, all is not lost.  Imagine if your store could:
remind customers when important events are, and even suggest items to buy for the occasion
– send customers totally personalized communications, including catalogs – – as often as you want, for almost nothing
make recommendations to your customers about what they might love, based on what they’ve already bought
– send customers not just promotions, but at the exact time that you know they typically buy, and the deals that they respond to
enable your customers to tell all their friends about your great store – – instantly, when they’re most excited
follow up every single purchase to make sure everything is ok
dress your store up for the holidays or another event – – instantly
change what your store offers based on what your customers are buying elsewhere
enable customers to order merely by touching the picture in the ad

This is the magic of e-tailing.  The ability to reach and influence is remarkable, and the rules are constantly changing.

Here are a few companies whose products looked interesting:

Ship 2 My ID – – from their website: “Ship2MyID is a social commerce enabler that will allow users to buy items online and send them to others without needing to know the receiver’s physical address. Both the sender and the receiver’s physical addresses are kept hidden from each other, and the receiver has to accept the shipment, ensuring security.”  Got it?  You give them your email or social media ID, they help someone ship something to you without their knowing your address.  yes, me too.

ShipToMyID

 

OrderGroove – encourages all-important loyalty by enabling subscription ordering (i.e. they figure out when you run out of vitamins, diapers, dog treats, whatever, and facilitate having the manufacturer send to you.)

Ordergroove

Bitpay – Still don’t understand bitcoins?  Doesn’t matter.  With these guys, your store can still accept them.

From their site:  “Instant conversion, no transaction fee, and bank deposits in US Dollars, Euros, GBP, CAD and more. We take the bitcoin exchange rate risk, your customers get the best rate on the market, and you get a payment you can count on, every time.”

Sounds pretty low-risk to me.

Bitpay

FeedVisor – Algorithmic Repricing for Amazon Sellers!   I will admit – – not 100% sure what these guys do.  Maybe not even 50%. There was a crowd of intimidating techies crowded around the booth so I just gave them wide berth and moved on.

Algorithmic Repricing

 

The IRCE show is one trade event that is actually worth attending every year, because you know that in a year everything will be completely different.

 

Top 10 NRA Show Observations (Part 1)

Posted on

Once again, I’ve taken one for the team and walked the floor at the National Restaurant Association show (yes, that NRA; sorry Mr. Nugent).

NRA

Show Floor – 2014 NRA – McCormick Place

In addition to things I reported on last year, there are some exciting new offerings.

Because there’s so much cool stuff, I’ve separated my Top 10 list into #6-10 (today’s post) and Top 5 (coming soon).  So here we go.

[NOTE:  as always, all links and photos are live: click on them to learn more]

Observation 10.  Tea!  Tea!  More Tea!  – as you may recall, tea was originally introduced at the 3000 B.C. NRA show (held outdoors in Wrigley Field).

The news this year is that every time you turned around you bumped into another tea purveyor trying to look old and mystical and yet hip at the same time. (sort of like Cher? Keith Richards?)  Dozens of them. Perhaps it’s an echo effect from Starbucks’s Teavana venture.  Or maybe they’ve been there all along and I’m just noticing.  At any rate, hot or cold, flavored or straight, Oprah’s Chai Latte or not, prepare to be offered tea more and more often.

DavidsonTea

 

 

Observation 9.  Greater Sales through Big Data.    Have you heard this term before:  ‘big data’?  Of course you have.  Not to be confused with ‘Satisfying Customers through Big Data‘ (more on that later).  The restaurant business is increasingly swimming in POS data, and LOTS of companies are trying to use it to help restaurants pry every last dollar from your wallet.

Essentially it comes down to driving traffic, increasing loyalty, up-selling, and above all, getting you to buy more high-margin beverages.  You out there, experimenting with different restaurants and learning about different food cultures?  Well, STOP IT!  Do you want to be just average, or do you want to be LOYAL?  Yes, a restaurant-centric, not consumer-centric way of looking at things.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 9.56.30 PM

One loyalty company called Paytronix allows operators to send geofenced messages (it is what it sounds like), lets them pay for food with their phones, and more.  Just when we thought our ability to actually communicate with each other couldn’t get any worse, there are now even more distractions available.

Paytronix also models guest behavior to project potential high-value customers and nurture them. Which of course sounds familiar, since the casinos have been doing it for years.  Except you will never be comped drinks and a hotel room in a restaurant.

Observation 8.  Responsible/Local Sourcing – Whether it’s produce, protein or grains, where food comes from is increasingly getting attention.  However, it’s one thing to say it, quite another to do it on a meaningful scale.  As Chipotle found out recently when they faced a shortage of ‘responsibly raised beef’, reducing your supply options means the margin for error shrinks as well.

HydroponicsScreen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.10.14 PM

 

Observation 7.  Mobile to help back office.  Could there be a less sexy title?  Doubtful.  The point here is rather than ‘mobile’ being a buzzword but not really ready for primetime, Mobile is starting to be leveraged in a way totally relevant to the frenetic nature of hospitality.

One startup, Partender, has developed a mobile app to get real-time inventory updates for the bar area.  In the bar business, making money is a lot about tightly controlling inventory to keep service levels high, while making as much cash available for the important stuff: hiring trick bartenders like Tom Cruise.

Seriously, I saw this app at work and it is slick, intuitive, and totally appropriate for the use.  When inventory is sitting on the shelves, it’s hard to input with a fixed desktop or laptop.  Mobile is increasingly adding real value where it makes sense..

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.15.48 PM

Observation 6.  Plant-Based Dinnerware – compostable products have been around a while; this year there were more products that were plant-based.  Specifically, companies like World Centric and Vegware offer tableware, utensils, napkins, hot/cold cups, to-go packages and more made from things like sugar cane, wheat straw, and corn.  As volume increases, costs will come down and you’ll see more of this approach.

energy-savings

…But wait – – Now you can also get utensils that you can not only eat with, but that you can EAT.  Foodie Spoon offers a selection of different serving shapes (spoons, cones, shapes) that you can put stuff on, and then eat the whole thing.  Think of a mini-me taco.

FoodieSpoon
So next time you’re at a party and a waiter offers you an elegant canapé on a spoon, amaze your friends and chomp the whole thing down.  (But maybe check first.)

THAT’S IT FOR OBSERVATIONS 6-10.   COMING SOON:  THE TOP 5, which promises to be even more exciting.

In the meantime, a few bonus experiences from the show:

Silpat Girl

Silpat Girl

Espresso Cheese!

Espresso Cheese!

Stay tuned!

9.6 Billion Coming for Dinner – how can we feed them?

If you are reading this and you’re not hungry, be thankful.  If you are hungry, remember what it feels like, and get yourself a snack.  In either case it’s important that you then read this post.

There are expected to be about 9.6 billion people roaming the planet by 2050 –  35% above today’s 7.1 billion, growing 190,000 daily for the next 36 years.  Who’s going to feed them all?  This is a huge challenge – – we cannot do this on ramen alone.

A new initiative is exploring ways to fit everyone around that big dinner table in 2050, using solutions we can all live with.  It’s called FutureFood 2050.  More below, but it considers novel approaches such as 3-D food printing, leveraging the awesome power of the world’s women, and more.  

THE CHALLENGE

World Hunger

This issue starts with a large serving of irony:  according to worldhunger.org, about 900 million people regularly go to bed hungry – – about one in six people in developing countries.  Yet, we produce enough calories globally to feed everyone now.  (Daily per-capita food production in 2012:  about 2700 calories (FAO), more than the 2000-2500 recommended for adult women and men).

The problem, as we know, is partially one of distribution – the food may exist, but many people simply have no access.   Unfortunately there isn’t (not yet, anyway) a way to electronically transmit calories around the world.

Why is this so hard to fix?  We did figure out how to get creme filling inside a Twinkie, right?

Twinkies

Well, it’s just a little more complicated – – there are some major dynamics at work, including:
POVERTY.  Between 1-2 billion people live on $1.25/day or less, concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
CONFLICT/DICTATORSHIPS/CORRUPTION.  These isolate refugees, or divert needed aid, or both.
INFRASTRUCTURE. About half of the food grown in developing countries is wasted because of insufficient processing, packaging and storage capability.  And it’s often impossible to import due to lack of reliable transport.  Related to this is access to water; an estimated 800 million people don’t have access to clean water.
CLIMATE CHANGE.  Whether you call it Global Warming or not, extreme droughts, flooding and the like disrupt ability to grow crops efficiently.
ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY.  Industry faces increasing challenges in producing food in a sustainable, responsible way.  And there is a phenomenal amount of food wasted in developed countries.

THE PATH TO A SOLUTION WE CAN AGREE ON

Swaminathan

The most important step has been recognizing the problem.  Importantly, the UN, through its Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has conducted World Summits on Food Security to develop policy solutions to solve hunger.

But that’s at a policy level –  ultimately consumer acceptance, with willingness to compromise, is key to program adoption.  And that’s not always easy.  There have certainly been some dramatic food-centered communications over recent years.  But they’re often at either end of the ’science is always bad’ or ’science is the only solution’ spectrum.  In reality, most actions balance benefit with consequences; progress is made by objectively agreeing on serving the common good.

So how can we identify programs that we can all live with?  I think we can agree that this is a problem worth solving together.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) has created FutureFood 2050 to take the discussion out of the conference rooms and to the people, to create an open dialogue and ultimately workable solutions. 

[IFT has 18,000 global members; they are often thought of as food scientists but their purview also includes most of the food supply chain.]

FutureFood 2050 will work over the next 18 months or so, featuring 75 conversations with the world’s leading independent-minded thought leaders, about how they think we can get to a healthier, safer and better-fed planet.  These opinion leaders will include policy makers, cultural influencers, scientists, engineers, avant-garde chefs, entrepreneurs, and more.

The first three interviews, covering 3-D food printing, leveraging the power of women, and an ‘Evergreen Revolution” (agricultural productivity without ecological harm) are already available on the website: www.futurefood2050.com.  Very interesting reading.

These interviews will then be distilled into a documentary by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, an Academy Award-nominated director, to be released in 2015.  As he said in an interview recently: “the hard part isn’t getting great content, it’s ‘how do you fit this amazing conversation into just 90 minutes’?”.

2050 seems a long time away, but world hunger is a massively complicated problem to solve, and it’s not too early to start.  Keep your eyes open as new interviews are conducted – – ultimately solutions may well come from the most unlikely places.

And once we solve that, we’ll work on getting the Cubs into the World Series.

SELFIES: Narcissism is now officially a trend (How can you tell?)

The youth of our society regularly assault the rest of us with a regular stream of silly fads, most of which mercifully fade from view in short order (think Cronuts, #anything, the phrase ‘YOLO’, and hopefully soon, Bieber).

However, a select few cross over into the magical land of Trends, which have more longevity, presumably because they offer something of (more) lasting value.

Last week’s Sunday comics provided an unexpected validation of the latest fad-to-trend transition: the Selfie.

Of course you know that selfies are photos taken of one’s self, in some unique situation, typically for the purpose of sharing (usually via social media) to demonstrate how fabulous your life is.   Recent selfies in the news have included our President, Ellen DeGeneres and Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.  All have fabulous lives.

Last week, 3 comics (‘Doonesbury’, ‘Dustin’ and ‘The Lockhorns’) featured the Selfie.

Now, for this writer to extract deeper meaning from the comics is not news.

However, it is particularly instructive when you consider that the average age of the cartoonists (Garry Trudeau; Steve Kelley/Jeff Parker; Bunny Hoest/John Reiner) is 65!

DustinApril 6

As an activity that started with teens and spread via social media, one would hardly expect this totally narcissistic behavior to be recognized, let alone embraced by retirement-age journalists.

And yet, to quote Edna Mode: “…here we are”.

EdnaMode

In the case of selfies, this is one technology and social media-driven fad that has gone mainstream.   Who would have guessed?

So what, you say?

1)   Demographics, technology and social change are shifting so rapidly that generalizing about which groups will be trend adopters isn’t necessarily a good idea.

A recently published Pew Study finds that while older consumers are indeed less likely to be online than younger consumers, still, 59% of consumers 65+ are going online, and 82% of those are online regularly.
Think about that the next time someone assumes that xyz technology or app is ‘only going to be popular among younger consumers’.

2)   Don’t overlook the comics as a barometer of the national social conversation.

We have seen a little of what the future looks like. And apparently, it looks like ourselves at arm’s length.

SeniorSelfie

Top 10 2013 Mostly Accidental Marketing Lessons

This is the time of year where instead of being productive, people put together lists.
So here’s my look back at 10 events in 2013 that provided (purposely or not) great learning.

2013  Lesson 1:  Measure Twice, Cut Once.  Make that: Measure three times.
Healthcare.gov rollout
(honorable mention for Chicagoans:  Ventra public transit card rollout).
– So many lessons here.  It’s the lesson that keeps on giving.  Reminder: even if your brand isn’t one-sixth of the national economy you probably still want to test a new e-commerce site.  Test, test and then test again.

jon_stewart_obamacare

2013 Lesson 2: A brand CAN do a 180 in a Single Day 
Miley Cyrus
– And in this case it took about 5 minutes.  The recipe: take one tweens’ idol named Hannah Montana.  Remove most clothes, liberally add makeup, a big foam finger and nationally televised awards show; mix aggressively using the body and add a large dash of idiot grin.  Voila!  You’ve now transformed from Hannah Montana into what looks like the love child of Gene Simmons and Dita Von Teese, without the charm.
The winner:  probably Miley and her handlers, but hard to know yet.  The clear losers: Millions of formerly innocent Hannah fans.  Also, the general cultural level in the US.
So yes, it is possible to completely change your brand’s image in a day.  But it might involve twerking.

Hannah to Miley

2013 Lesson 3: There is such a thing as too much transparency
Lululemon
– Due to quality control snafus, Lululemon’s yoga pants delivered a little more than was supposed to meet the eye.  The media, always a model of sober restraint when it comes to high-minded topics like see-through clothing, did its best to spin this story as salaciously as possible.  Ultimately it went viral, resulting in loss of gobs of market value, as well as Lulu’s top management. At least they kept their sense of humor about it. (actually, there is a real lesson here: at the end of the day it’s about the product – and you can never take your eye off the ball).

Lululemon Store Window

2013 Lesson 4:  The early bird still catches the worm – – if he tweets about it.
Oreo cookies
– We now live in an era that enables, and requires, real-time marketing.  As has been reviewed ad nauseam (guilty!), Oreo slam-dunked it with a timely tweet during the Super Bowl blackout.  Meanwhile, given the opportunity of Marco Rubio’s magic cotton-mouth TV moment, the Poland Spring ad team not only didn’t stick the dive, they missed the pool entirely.

oreo-super-bowl-tweetMarco Rubio drink

2013 Lesson 5:  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  When your meatball supplier tries to slip you some horsemeat, clean house IMMEDIATELY.
IKEA
– When IKEA learned that some of its famous meatballs (150 million annually!) might contain traces of horsemeat, it immediately got rid of all meatballs in inventory, whether suspect or not.  Cost of write-off?  Probably pretty high.  Benefit to reputation by immediately taking action?  Priceless.  Sales of meatballs since then?  UP.

IKEA meatballs

2013 Lesson 6:  Hint: ‘Fail Fast’ is really just a euphemism for Test and Learn.  It doesn’t mean your goal is actually to fail fast.
JC Penney
– Here is a retailer that tried to do a 180 without twerking.  Or more importantly, without considering that its customers preferred periodic discounts.  Boom.
Easier to adapt to customer preferences than to try to force them to adapt to you.

jcpenneymadnessJCP quarterly

2013 Lesson 7:  There is No Such Thing as Bad PR (at least for Jeff Bezos)
Amazon
– Amazon’s eerie delivery drones cleverly debuted on ’60 Minutes’ the day before Cyber Monday.  Never mind that if you give it about 5 seconds’ thought, the barriers are significant (snow? wind? power lines? privacy issues? teen boys with slingshots?) – what it really shows is that in addition to any product you can think of, Amazon’s mission apparently also includes delivering PR to all homes.

Amazon drone

2013 Lesson 8:  If you go for the ‘wink-wink, joke’s on me’ approach, and people don’t get it, then ‘wink-wink, the joke’s on you’.
Honda/Michael Bolton Holiday campaign
– If you didn’t see them, these spots feature the man of the strained tenor and shorn mullet singing soulful holiday-esque tunes from atop a Honda, next to a Honda, in a Honda showroom, behind a piano, behind a guitar, all to the indecipherable reactions of surprised, baffled, younger presumed car shoppers.  It’s difficult to tell what the point is.  The obvious assumption is that this is a quid pro quo: the 60-year old Bolton (perfect for a younger target!) has a new album that needs promoting (true) and Honda needs some breakthrough quality in the holiday car ad environment that generally features obnoxiously gift-wrapped luxury cars (true again).
But what’s Bolton doing up there on that car?  Apparently, according to Adweek, this campaign is ‘poking fun at itself with melodramatic guitar solos and idiotic lyrical gems like “This special time of year, it’s filled with joy and cheer, for me and you and you and you, too’.”  Well, I know something about misplaced melodrama and idiot lyrics and I didn’t catch it.  If there’s a wink in there somewhere, it’s subtle enough as to be invisible.
So we’re left with a spot with bland cars, being promoted by bland music – – a perfect match, but I suspect probably not what they were going for.
The American public as a rule doesn’t respond well to ‘subtle.’   Witness, if you will, Ron Burgundy for Dodge – – a more effective celebrity hookup.

Bolton on car

2013 Lesson 9:  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  When trying to break into Southern California, and your name contains the word ‘Fresh’, don’t pre-wrap the fruits and vegetables.
Tesco Fresh & Easy
– This one already has a coda. Big UK retailer Tesco created its Fresh & Easy chain in late 2007 to penetrate the Western US market with a fresh new smaller format store, famously after significant consumer research.  The experiment failed when consumers didn’t respond well to new formats, new food presentation, and in some cases, truly foreign concepts.  Ultimately F&E was sold to Yucaipa, which has added “competitive pricing, improved hours, fresher foods and assisted checkout” according to management.  Everything, it appears, has been changed except the name.
– The obvious lesson – – listen to your customers (see Lesson 6).

fresh and easy vegetables

2013 Lesson 10:  You can say Social Media and B2B Marketing in the same sentence
Maersk Shipping
– Maybe it’s the exotic locations where its ships are shown.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that deep down we’re all little kids and are awed by really cool big boats.  Whatever the appeal, big freight shipper Maersk found a way to go from zero to one million+ in Facebook likes in about a year (good Forbes article here).  Of course, no one places container orders on a Facebook page, but for very little cost (repurposing archival company photos) this enhances the Maersk brand, distances it a bit from its competitors, and likely provides meaningful recruiting and morale benefits.

Maersk Facebook

Probably the big lesson for 2013 has been that while many old conventions are being challenged (e.g. static campaigns, role of social media), the key marketing fundamentals are still alive and well:  understanding your customers and their needs is the surest way to success (or at least avoiding being in next year’s write-up).

Happy New Year.

United Airlines, Mom’s Missing Jewelry, and the Asymmetry of Customer Feedback

Dad used to say “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it”.  Mom prefers the double-positive version.

What if people spent the same energy to praise good deeds as they do publicly complaining?

woman-wagging-finger

Someone rub you the wrong way?  Got your knickers in a knot?  Well, post it somewhere and see if you can get it to go viral.

It’s easy to rage publicly over real or perceived slights.  We can turn millions against a company, deserved or not, while we bloviate in anonymity with no repercussions.  It’s like punching the schoolyard bully in the face remotely from your basement. And generally, it’s how a lot of people tend to roll.

Well, sometimes companies actually do good things due to someone’s actions; unfortunately people seem to be less motivated to share when things turn out well – – isn’t that what we’re entitled to? – – so you’re not likely to hear about it.  And so the story of United Airlines, my mom and the lost jewelry.  But first a quick bit of context.

Remember the ‘United Broke My Guitar’ guy?  Back in 2009 United Airlines broke his guitar and refused to compensate him for it.  In frustration, he posted a song on YouTube (13 million hits), wrote a book, and became something of a travelers’ cause célèbre.  Ultimately, of course, United realized it had screwed up, rightfully made him whole, and learned a painful lesson about ‘an ounce of medicine’ or something like that.

This weekend my 82 year old mother flew into town and discovered she had lost her jewelry bag.  On her return trip, since she of course gets to the airport 4 hours early, she had time to check United lost & found.  Lo and behold, not only did United have it, but the jewelry bag was immediately returned to her, intact and untouched!

Blue Jewelry Bag

It apparently had slipped out of her bag in the overhead compartment on the way over.  This means not only did all the passengers, staff, and cleaning crew ignore a temptation, but somehow THE SYSTEM WORKED:  It found its way to Lost and Found, was properly coded into the system, and a United representative was actually able and willing to locate it and immediately give it back to its owner.  Wow.

I don’t know about you, but I lose more than my fair share of things and I NEVER get anything back.  And this was a jewelry bag within a complex system with thousands of flights and hundreds of thousands of passengers daily.  (Full disclosure:  it was costume jewelry – – Mom’s been to the rodeo a few times – – but they didn’t know that).

This must happen with some regularity.  So why don’t you generally see companies praised publicly for excellent customer service?  Mom has been a professional pianist for over 60 years and is in fair voice, so she could do her version of Guitar Guy on YouTube, but she has a full schedule of 35 students a week and like all of us, is too busy.

I also suspect that praising a big company just isn’t cool; you’re not sticking it to the Man when you say something positive.  This will be just one of many transactions of this United representative, the majority of which likely won’t have as happy an ending.  And that’s too bad.

AirlineAgent2

Maybe the readers of this post could forward it to a few people as a reminder that sometimes good things happen because someone gave extra effort, and that it wouldn’t be so bad to send out an Attaboy once in a while.   See if you can get it picked up.  You might just make someone’s day.  Here’s a little primer on how to get started.

Butterfly Bakery: Heading back into the cocoon

Today’s news brings us the cautionary tale of Butterfly Bakery, which is no doubt trying to find a cocoon to hide in after an onslaught of mostly self-inflicted pain.  This is primarily a lesson on the importance of transparency, authenticity and speed in the age of 24/7 public scrutiny.

ht_butterfly_bakery_blueberry_muffins_nt_130314_wblog

The short story:  Butterfly Bakery, a small Clifton, NJ baker of special baked goods (e.g. sugar-free, no sugar added, gluten-free, etc), is suffering through its 15 minutes of fame courtesy of the FDA, which forced it to close its doors after discovering that sugar and fat levels in several of its muffin and cookie products were well above what was claimed on the label.  Selected products had 3x the stated levels of sugar and 2x the indicated amount of fat.  This has led to some explanatory statements on the BB Facebook page and caused the charming looking website to be taken down.  The Twitter feed has also stopped.

ButterflyBakeryScreenShot

So — what’s the big deal?  Isn’t this just another case of the government unfairly picking on the little guys while ignoring ‘big business’?  After all, only 3 products of 45 were cited.

Well, yes and no — but mostly no.

– it turns out that the original FDA complaint is almost 2 years old, and that BB was well aware of the issues.  Here is an excerpt from their Facebook statement:  “Butterfly Bakery, Inc. acknowledges the claims in the FDA press release dated March 13, 2013. Butterfly Bakery voluntarily entered into a consent decree and has been working with the FDA and a team of technical and regulatory experts since May 31, 2011, to improve its processes and ensure compliance with all Butterfly Bakery products”. [bold added]

– May 2011?  Based on comments on their FB page, their customer base was clearly not aware of anything, and they are now suitably outraged.  2 years is plenty of time to reformulate, repackage, explain to customers, and flush out all inventory.  An FDA inquiry would seem to have been a strong hint to watch nutritional claims closely.

A matter of health – these products draw heavily from diabetics and celiac sufferers, for whom safe, tasty treats are often difficult to find.  BB’s products apparently tasted great, which is now not surprising since that’s largely what sugar and fat are for.  So whether intentional or not, BB enticed customers with better taste, while simultaneously putting them in danger because of misleading labeling.  This is not just a case of ‘I’m mad you didn’t tell me’, it’s a case of putting consumers at risk.

You never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression – – Butterfly Bakery has now gotten its first national publicity, which is hugely negative, and they will forever be associated with this scandal.  They will immediately forfeit retail distribution and may have trouble regaining it. But perhaps most importantly, they have violated the trust of their most important constituency – their customers, which may be impossible to restore.

Collateral damage – – other unrelated Butterfly Bakeries have already had to start issuing disclaimers that this doesn’t apply to them.  But clearly potential customers will have pause before buying from them.

The upshot:  Hindsight is 20/20, but Butterfly Bakery could have positioned themselves most positively back in 2011 if they had acknowledged some inaccuracies in labeling, offered refunds, and pledged to a new level of scrutiny.  They would have been seen as being committed to their customers.  Now the opposite is true, and their options are limited.  At least they have not made the mistake of trying to fight hand-to-hand on Facebook (see Applebee’s case).