Category Archives: customer service

How Retailers Can Connect the Online and In-Store Customer Experience

The great overlap has started.

In the last few months, the worlds have physical shopping and online shopping have collided. Walmart, the country’s biggest retailer, has increased its massive e-commerce effort, using its thousands of US locations as distribution points for same-day delivery. At the same time, Amazon, the country’s biggest online retailer, now ships items to “lockers,” physical kiosks which can be accessed at any time. With Amazon Lockers,Brand Channel has declaredAmazon’s strategy to distribute its products through traditional retail outlets is already underway.”


These retail giants are reacting to customer behavior. They know that customers want an online experience that’s connected to the in-store experience. So how can this strategy be implemented by specialty retailers? Here are some easy steps to get the best of both worlds.

Bringing Online Information to the Store
Price is not the only factor driving customers to online shopping. “Customers demand quick and easy access to relevant product information,” says Mark Brixton in Australia’sPower Retail blog. With turnover in the retail industry higher than ever, and employers unable to fully train their staff, many customers find that sales associates can’t help them make informed decisions about products.

The solution? Make your associates (and managers!) as knowledgeable as possible – even it means “cheating.” At Best Buy, I once inquired about a camera, and the associate simply pulled out an iPad and looked at the Best Buy website with me, showing all the good reviews. It certainly was better than being told “I don’t know,” which makes me leave the store to find more information.

Another online feature that’s very effective is the recommendation engine: “People who bought X also bought Y.” Store associates can make those suggestions, of course, but there’s another option: reconfiguring your store so that items that are often bought together are actually displayed together.
 
Chico’s online recommendations

What about online customer recommendations? Brazilian clothier C&A has “special hooks on the racks in its bricks-and-mortar store” that display Facebook likes for each item of clothing in real time, “giving in-store shoppers a clear indication of each item’s online popularity
.That technology may be a ways off for most of us, but that doesn’t stop you from putting a sign on an item that says, “Our most popular item on Facebook,” or “Our most pinned product on Pinterest.”

Bringing the Personal Store Experience Online
Jiadev Shergill, founder of Bundle.com, told a recent Internet Week New York Panel, “Walking into a store and feeling the clothes, trying them on – this is a data point that you can’t get online.”

He recommends “product videos, multiple angles, more product measurement details, and real-world comparisons,” to simulate the in-store experience, making customers more comfortable with an item they can’t hold, use, or try on.

Many have us know at least one sales associate that has been helping us for years, who know lots of our personal details, and uses that information to help us shop. So why not ask for that information during online shopping? Asking for a birthday is expected, but you could also ask for more (optional) information, such as hobbies, favorite colors, or preferred brands. That allows you to offer exactly what the customer wants the next time they visit your online store.

This may seem obvious, but you should also make online returns as easy as in-store returns.
Zappos led the way by making returns both free and hassle-free. Now many websites offer that service.

Zappos provides a video explaining how to return items.

 

Linking the Two Experiences Together
One good strategy is to keep a customer database that can be accessed by both your online store and your physical store. So when an online customer finally walks into your store, all they have to do is give their name or email address and a sales associate can look at their purchase history, preferences, and recommendations.

To the customer, your online store isn’t some separate entity, so if they’ve bought from your website five times, why should they be treated like a stranger when they finally pay your physical store a visit?
Most importantly, this entire philosophy is dependent on employees to deliver your brand experience. Whether you’ve been in the same location for 50 years or are a new internet startup, your brand has value. And it’s your employees who have the greatest power to make or break it. They’re the ones who shift your message from a concept to an experience – positive or negative. So whichever strategy you implement, make sure your employees can define your brand. If they can’t define it, they can’t deliver it.

I hope these ideas have helped you look at online shopping and physical shopping as two sides of the same coin, with each complementing the other. And if you’d like to create an online store – or refresh an old one – my agency, Brandemix, is happy to help.
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The Most Popular Blog Posts of 2012

As the year comes to a close, I’m looking back at this year’s most popular blog posts. The topics range from examples of the best social media to some of the worst, and from internal branding to external. In case you missed them, here are the BrandeBlog’s five most-read posts of 2012.

Employer Branding Numbers Everyone Should Know
2012 brought us a number of recruiting studies that turned conventional wisdom upside-down. How many employers said they had an employer branding strategy? How many employees leave a company for reasons other than money? How many companies plan to increase their investment in employer branding? The answers may surprise you.

Social Media PR Disasters: #McDStories
Sometimes you can learn more from a failure than a success. That was certainly true of our story on McDonald’s Twitter debacle, in which an innocent hashtag was taken over by critics and pranksters in a matter of hours. See how McDonald’s reacted and learn what to do (and not to do) when your brand encounters a similar social media crisis.

What’s Foursquare Really For?
The best social sites have stated goals: Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn is for business, Instagram is for photos. But what about Foursquare? Is it for sharing local finds with your friends? Posting reviews for strangers? Competing for discounts with other customers? Discover Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley’s answers to these and other tough questions in this post.

Social Media Marketing Simplified
Ever come out of a social media planning session with your head spinning? New forms of marketing have created new buzzwords like optimize, reciprocity, and engagement. But you don’t have to learn all the jargon to have a successful social media campaign; you only need to answer three basic questions.

Why State Farm is a Social Media Superstar
The most popular post of the year was an exploration of State Farm’s social media recruiting. The insurance company has a dedicated Facebook Page and answers questions and comments within 24 hours. The State Farm careers site features videos testimonials from interns, a rarely seen part of a company’s workforce. Finally, State Farm’s interactive website takes online recruiting to a whole other level. See how your brand can attain “Superstar” status here.

What do these posts’ popularity tell us? That there a lot of people with an interest in – and a need for – social media trends, marketing, and branding. As it so happens, they are also specialties of ours!

Put Brandemix on your to-do list for 2013; we want to be popular, too.

Guest Post: Create a Zappos-Like Culture of Customer Service With Performance Metrics

We’ve written about Zappos’ great social media efforts, but the online shoe retailer has other impressive qualities, too. In this week’s guest post, Software Advice’s Ashley Furness tells you how to create a Zappos-like culture of customer service using performance metrics.

It seems traditional marketing increasingly turns away customers in today’s Yelp and social media-obsessed world. Advertising, PR, and other promotional spending fall on deaf ears while bad messages travel further, faster.

This has prompted a sea-change in the way some companies approach their marketing budget. Could a Zappos-level of customer service provide a better return on investment?

“Zappos invests in the call center not as cost, but the opportunity to market,” Zappos Loyalty Manager Joseph Michelli explained to me recently. He authored a whole book on the concept, called The Zappos Experience. This has resulted in as much as 75 percent of their sales coming from return customers, who spend on average 2.5 times more than first-timers.

So how do you create this Zappos-like culture? It starts with the basics – performance metrics.

It’s About the Wow Moments
Making the customer feel appreciated is a priority for Zappos. They do this by grading calls on a 100-point scale they call the “Happiness Experience Form.” Every agent is expected to maintain a 50-point average or higher. This score is based on several factors, including:

  • Whether or not the agent tried to create a personal emotional connection with the caller
  • Whether or not the agent continued the conversation if the customer responded positively
  • Whether or not the agent identified and responded to the customer’s unstated needs
  • And whether or not the agent gave a “wow” experience or went above and beyond

“Customer service creates an environment of one-to-one communication. That intimacy creates a special opportunity to build a relationship as opposed to a top-of-mind impression through advertising,” Michelli said.

At the end of the month, management identifies agents with less than a 50-point average on the Happiness Experience Form. Those agents receive extra training. Top performers are rewarded with paid hours off and other incentives.

Watch Those Idle Chats
Zappos also monitors “abandonment time,” or periods when an agent has a chat session open even though the customer already disconnected from the chat. The reason this is so important is two-fold:

One, idle chats are a symptom of chat avoidance – or the agent purposefully creating conditions so they don’t have to respond; and two, when agents aren’t responding, customers wait longer. The longer they wait, the more apt they are to abandon the session.

This strategy zeroes in on the cause of unproductivity in the chat setting – idle chats – without deterring agents from expressing the values in the Happiness Experience Form.

Still Measuring Call Quantities?
Zappos’s longest call on record lasted more than eight hours, and guess what? This interaction was lauded by leadership as a stellar example of serving the customer.

“It’s more important that we make an emotional connection with the customer, rather than just quickly getting them off the phone,” says Derek Carder, Customer Loyalty Operations Manager for Zappos.

Instead of valuing quick time to resolution or processing high call volumes, Zappos looks at the percentage of time an agent spends on the phone. Every agent is expected to spend 80 percent of their time on the phone, in chat, or in an email response. This metric is a way to empower the team and to utilize time in a way that best promotes customer loyalty.

Attendance is Key
Absenteeism can be a huge detractor from your customer service productivity. Zappos uses a program they call Panda to combat this trend. Employees receive a point for every day they miss work or come in late. Staff with zero points in a given period receive a varying number of paid hours off. These hours can be accrued and stacked for an entire paid day off.

This decreases the days missed by employees, but also increases job satisfaction. What Zappos-level strategies does your company use to create a customer-centric culture? Let us know by commenting here.

Ashley Furness is a market analyst with Software Advice.