Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thinking About Customers: The Pink Bicycle

V Manninen, Creative Commons
One morning shortly before Christmas, a man and a young girl entered the bicycle shop. The owner of the shop greeted them and asked how he could help.

"I'm getting a new bicycle!" said the girl.
"You've come to the right place," said the owner, looking from the girl to the man. 
"She has a December birthday," said the man, smiling.

The man and the girl began looking around the shop at the various sizes, shapes, and colors available. After a short time, the owner of the shop noticed that the girl was spending some time looking at a blue bicycle, while the father was carefully checking out a pink one.

"Come look at this one, sweetie," said the dad.
"I kind of like this one, Daddy," replied the girl.
"They are both really nice bikes, and suitable for someone her age," said the shop owner to the man.

After a fair amount of debate, the man and the girl left the shop, with the man telling the shop owner that he would call later in the week. He did call, and he talked over the purchase with the shop owner, who wanted to know the outcome of the pink-versus-blue debate. The dad said simply that he had decided that the pink one was the right one, and put a hold on the bike by making a deposit with his credit card. The pink bicycle went to its new home the following day.

A few weeks later, the girl came to the shop with the pink bike.

"I was wondering if I could trade this bike for the blue one," she said.
"I think I have to talk to your father, since he's the one who bought the bike," said the owner.
"Oh, OK. Never mind then," said the girl. She turned and rode away.

The pink bicycle wound up staying in the garage. The girl almost never rode it, despite expressing gratitude to her father for the gift.

What had happened?

If we consider the dad--who paid the bill, after all--as the customer, the shop owner did everything right. If, however, we look beyond the payment, the person who would actually use the bike didn't really want that one, but a different one instead. So, rather than a great gift, the dad wound up with a disappointed daughter and an unused bike. There would be no word-of-mouth about how great the bike was, and no friends of the girl would be buying from this shop.

The shop served the wrong person. The owner could have said to the father, "I think your daughter would be much happier with the blue bike. It has all the features she wants, it's safe, and she really likes it." Instead, he listened only to the man with the money.

Is the customer you are are serving the right customer? Will they benefit from the product or service you sell, or are you just making a sale?

Give it some thought. 


Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Customer Experience Better Be Good for the Customer

Some years ago, a couple of investors bought an old church in a lovely town in New York's Hudson Valley. They hired an architect who transformed the church into a lovely, modern, artsy restaurant space. The owners hired kitchen staff who had attended the nearby Culinary Institute of America. The place generated a lot of buzz, and even won a pre-opening architectural award or two. The customer experience was promising: Beautiful surroundings and great food.

But it went out of business.

Why? Because the architect didn't understand the food service business. The design made it virtually impossible for the waitstaff to get into the kitchen and get the food out to the customers in a timely manner. Collisions happened. Dinners were ruined, dropped, or arrived at the table cold. Customers stopped going and the place was vacant again within months.

The investors had thought that the customer experience consisted of world-class food in a world-class facility. They were wrong. A good customer experience would have consisted of customers enjoying world-class food in a world-class facility. But the customers couldn't enjoy it.

Businesses are now talking about "designing the customer experience." If you are trying to do that, make sure that the basics are included--like getting the food to the table. If you can't deliver, don't try to design.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Attentive Service Yields a "Customer for Life"

In a previous post, I mentioned my friend "Barb" and how she came to realize that service can be a two-way street. I talked with her a few days ago, and she related the following story about how she has become a "customer for life" for one company that provided terrific service to her this winter.

Unless you've been hibernating, you probably know that the northeast U.S. has been having a very rough winter. Barb lives on the coast of Maine, as do I. It has been intensely cold and very snowy. Some of the storms have included high winds, and that's where the story begins.

Barb has a Char-Broil grill out on her deck. She had a cover for it, until the cover blew off during a storm, and disappeared either into the distance or into the snow, so she checked out the company's website to see if she could get a replacement. After a minute or two, a box popped up asking if she wanted to engage in a live chat. She accepted the invitation and started chatting with an agent--let's call him Brian.

Brian asked the basic questions, such as what Barb was looking for. When he found out she wanted a new cover, he asked if she knew the model number of her grill, so she'd be sure to order the correct one. Unfortunately, Barb didn't know the number, and the grill was embedded in snow. He asked her some questions about the grill and said he thought it would take a 65-inch cover. She said OK, and they worked through the order.

Now that her curiosity was roused, she went dug out the grill enough to see the model number, and started having doubts about the size of the cover. She jumped back online, clicked on the Chat Now button, and asked if Brian was stiff available. The reply came that he was. (More about this later.)

Indeed, Barb had ordered the wrong cover, but it was easy enough to fix, said Brian. He asked if she had received a confirmation email. She had, and Brian confirmed the order number with her. He then said he could cancel that order and place a new order for the correct size. Barb agreed. She said there was no rush in shipping, and so the standard shipping method was specified--one that begins the shipment with UPS and completes it through the US Postal Service. Barb thought it was a regular UPS shipment and so no red flag was raised. (UPS and USPS need to find better abbreviations so that it's clearer who is delivering a package, by the way.)

A couple of weeks went by, and the cover did not come. Barb contacted Char-Broil, and they confirmed that it had shipped by the specified method. Since it should have arrived and hadn't, Char-Broil said they would send another, this one via FedEx. 

Barb asked, "What if the first one gets here?"
"Don't worry about it," said the rep. "Keep it with our compliments. You never know--another one might blow away."
And Barb decided, right then and there, that she would buy her next grill from Char-Broil. And the next. For the price of a grill cover ($40 retail) the company created a repeat buyer who already has her eyes on a $500 purchase. For the actual cost of a $40 product (probably half of that price) they had virtually eliminated the competition and created great customer loyalty.

By the way - the first cover did show up, about a week later. The USPS normally doesn't deliver to houses in Barb's area (everyone has P.O. Boxes), so the delivery was delayed.

Now, Char-Broil could have put a trace on the original shipment. They could have said, "We are not responsible." They didn't. They owned the interaction, took responsibility, and made the customer very happy. They probably also saved themselves money trying to track the errant cover, or restocking a return if they asked her to send one back. That's not only good service, it's smart business.

Now back to Brian still being online: Was he? Maybe. But with a good customer relationship management system and a good knowledge base, he didn't need to be. Any agent could answer the questions and take care of Barb.

Is your business being "penny wise and pound foolish"? 

Give it some thought.