Archives for October 2011

The Customer Dating Game

I’ll assume that nobody so hip and cool under the age of 30 reads these musings of mine (not to suggest if you are reading this, you’re old and geeky).  So I’m guessing that the first thing that popped into your head upon clicking through here was the Dating Game theme song.  Come on.  Lets all take a second and hum along

Ok now that we got that out of the way, where is this going?  I got to thinking the other day about how many customer-brand relationship challenges might be eliminated if brands where a bit more selective in choosing the customers with whom they do business.  This is especially true in the B to B services world in which I happen to live.

Seth Godin talks about the end of mass in his latest book.  This concept, in my mind, really harkens back to the earliest days of commerce.  A day when local merchants served a local clientele, among whom they lived, played and worked.  Yes, with the web, very targeted commerce can occur today at a grander scale and reach that targeted audience across a wider geography.  But that is not the equivalent of trying to sell everything to everyone.

I think Neil Warren of eHarmony is onto something.  Former eHarmony CEO Greg Waldorf summed up the company’s approach to creating matches.  He said “It’s not about matching people who like certain hobbies…it’s about compatibility.  You go on the site and tell us about you, rather than about what you want.”

What if you took that approach the next time you’re courting your next customer.  In general, business has done a good job of moving from “what can I sell you?” to “what do you want to buy?”  It’s pretty evident though that this doesn’t go far enough.

The next time a prospect waves some bucks your way, spend the time to really understand, not what they want, but what they are about; what really makes them tick.  And if that doesn’t jive with what’s in your core, better off to say “I can’t help you”.

I’m guessing your customer relationship will be a lot more harmonious in the long term.  

Exceptional Customer Service Never Gets Old

Ho hum.  Yes.  I’m going to write about Zappos again.  But wait!  Before you click away.  You gotta hear this.  I’m telling you.  I can’t make this stuff up!

My colleague conveyed this experience. 

She ordered a pair of rain boots from Zappos recently.  And, with all she’d heard about Zappos’ legendary service, after nine days, she was a bit miffed as to why her boots had not arrived at her home.  So, she sent them an email.  Nothing nasty.  Just “hey Zapppos.  9 days and no boots.  What gives?”

Soon after, she received an email from PayPal saying that her money was being refunded by Zappos.  Well, ok.  That was all well and good.  But, she actually still wanted the boots.  And she thought this meant that Zappos was cancelling her order and issuing a refund.

Following that email, though, she received a note from Zappos saying “…So sorry for the inconvenince.  We refunded your $149.  Your boots are on the way.  Keep them.”  Or something to that affect.

Seriously!?!

And so, how did Zappos make the determination to issue a refund and still ship the product?  Was it based on some sophisticated CLTV model?  Maybe.  But, I doubt it.  Since this is the first time my colleague had ever ordered from Zappos.  Unless of course you can tell that much about someone from the fact that they would pay $149 for rain boots. 

Could it be some algorithm that predicts future purchases from such a refund policy?  Perhaps.

I’m thinking its more likely that someone, not Tony Hsieh, but someone on the front lines in customer service decided it was the right thing to do; was empowered and just did it.

The lesson here?  White glove customer service for everyone, at any cost is not sustainable business…if you combine that with other decisions that erode financial margins.  But, when was the last time you saw the word “SALE” flashing on Zappos home page?  When was the last time Apple ran a 50% discount offer on iMacs? 

So, when folks talk about consumers willingness to pay extra for exceptional service, I’d argue that all that they are willing to pay is fair value for the service and experience delivered.  Zappos delivers exceptional service.  And for that, they make no appologies about selling a pair of rain boots for $149.