I’m going to tell a true story.

On the 10th of July, as a belated birthday present to moi, I ordered some Sonos speakers online from a popular retailer. For the sake of the story, let’s call them Johnny Lewis & Co. 

I chose to buy from JL for three good reasons: (1) their prices are usually fine, not the cheapest but in the right ball-park; (2) their customer service has been great, always polite and helpful; and (3) their warranty registration process is slick and seamless, which keeps life simple. 

Order placed.

Shortly afterwards, I received a flurry of emails – two of which made it apparent that the order had been split into two consignments, both to be delivered on the 12th.

On the 12th, more emails and SMS messages arrived, including the helpful “you’re next” alert. My only criticism so far is that most couriers (DHL in this case) still find it a struggle to include the order details in their correspondence – it would be nice to see “Your order from Johnny Lewis & Co. of a Sonos Beam and Wall Bracket…” rather than just a notification that something will be delivered.

Sure enough, a package arrived – but clearly not the full order. What followed has been a string of online forms (DHL apparently won’t let you talk to a real person), webchats and phone calls with JL. It turns out that the missing speakers have likely been lost, subject to a full warehouse search. 

When things follow the “happy path” there’s no real problem to address:

  • Goods ordered
  • Order confirmed
  • Delivery notified
  • Delivery made
  • Feedback solicited

However, it’s when things don’t quite go to plan that this journey breaks down:

  • Goods ordered
  • Order confirmed
  • Delivery notified
  • Partial delivery made
  • Customer waits a few days…
  • Customer clicks the “track my parcel” link
  • Parcel hasn’t moved from the depot
  • Customer contacts the courier
  • Courier doesn’t reply
  • Customer contacts the retailer
  • Retailer calls the courier
  • Retailer calls the customer
  • Customer waits a few days…
  • Customer contacts the retailer
  • Retailer still waiting to hear from the courier
  • Customer thinks “It’s not JL’s fault… it’s the courier who let them down”
  • Customer thinks “But ultimately it’s the retailer’s responsibility…”
  • Customer thinks twice about their brand loyalty

We all understand that things go wrong from time to time, and it’s in those ‘moments of truth’ that good communication is paramount. The courier system knows the dates of the order, dispatch and delivery (or in this case, no delivery – a package that’s apparently been orphaned in the warehouse). 

Surely in this age of AI, it should be possible for the courier’s system to spot that a parcel has come to a grinding halt in the formulaic process and failed to meet its delivery deadline?  At that point, surely a notification could be triggered to the customer and / or the retailer to advise?

It would have been great to receive an email, SMS, voice call, Facebook message – or whatever – from JL to say there may be a delay with the rest of my order, but they’re on top of it and will keep me posted. Surely that kind of customer experience isn’t beyond us in 2019?

But sadly, it appears to be the case more often than not. 

 

Promotions as part of a customer success strategy

Anyway, back to the point of this blog. The point of this blog is to ask: “So, what happens next?” 

What should JL do to ‘make it up’ to a valuable customer? To restore my loyalty by reminding me why I chose to buy from them in the past and should continue to choose them in the future when there are cheaper alternatives available?  When service is their main differentiator, what should it look like?

Very arguably there’s a truism that any failure deserves an apology. And the nature of that apology should fit within the corporate (and brand) policy and the expectations of the customer, aligned to factors such as customer lifetime value and propensity to churn – or indeed, to advocate. 

JL isn’t a ‘discount-driven’ retailer, so money off a future purchase is unlikely to wash with their brand police, although the fact of the matter is that nobody else necessarily needs to know. In today’s age of ‘individualization’, a one-off gesture that bucks the mould of conventional brand perception might go a long way towards a customer thinking “Do you know what, that’s special”. 

Other retail perks, such as free next-day shipping for 6 months, might be less contentious.

Every business will be different in the approach it takes, but the principles will hold true. For JL – in this case – something like this would strike me as appropriate:

 
 
  1. Serve, don’t sell. 
    While the service complaint is ongoing, suspend marketing communications (I’m not in the mood to buy again until the situation is resolved). 

    Instead, send me regular progress updates and ask me how things are going. Open a two-way conversation and lead it with integrity.
  2. Make an apology. 
    Once the problem is resolved, make a gesture that fits three key parameters; (1) the size of the (missed) opportunity to win-back loyalty, (ii) the extent by which expectations were missed, and (iii) the brand-led values of the business, to amplify and reinforce positive customer perception. 

    In this case, free shipping for a period – or something similar. 
  3. Follow it up. 
    At a later date, perhaps on my next purchase, thank me for staying as a JL customer. Businesses tend to have short memories whereas customers don’t – show that you care. 

    When I buy my next Samsung QLED TV, knock 5% off as a ‘surprise & delight’ thank you. 
 

A customer-driven promotions strategy

Retail promotions are typically seen as a way to attract new customers, but that’s missing a huge trick. The future will see the use of promotions to recognise and reward existing customers in consideration of their financial spend, recent customer service experiences and their potential to advocate. 

Promotions should be part of an overall business strategy – not used merely as an advertising hook for new customer acquisition, or as part of a run-of-the-mill loyalty program.

Most importantly, promotions should bring a new level of sincerity to the customer relationship, helping reinforce brand values on an individual customer level.

For those who have been waiting patiently, here’s the secret formula for success:

Customer Intelligence + Contextual Communication + Financially Optimized Promotions = Profitable Customer Relationships

Let’s see what happens! 

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