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Monday, January 31, 2011

Customer Experience "Powered By Service"

This article titled "Powered by service" about service and the customer experience was inspired by my visit to online retailer Zappos in early 2010. It appeared in the February 25th, 2010 issue of Floor Covering Weekly.

"Powered by service"

By Christine B. Whittemore

Have you heard of Zappos.com, the online purveyor of shoes, handbags and now clothing, etc.?  Their tagline - “powered by service” – captures how important service is to their overall customer experience.  Not just because of a 365-day return policy [with free return shipping], but more importantly because their entire corporate culture is about service.  As a result, word of mouth has propelled them from launch and almost no sales in 1999, to gross sales of $8.6 million in 2001, $32 million in 2002, more than $1 billion in 2009 and their recent acquisition by Amazon for $847 million.

Note the reference to ‘word-of-mouth’ rather than traditional advertising in driving growth.  WOM has forged long-lasting relationships with customers who are repeat, fiercely loyal purchasers.  They, in turn, have contributed increased profitability and competitive differentiation to Zappos.

What makes the Zappos service experience so memorable?  It embodies a consistently upbeat, supportive and worth-returning-to experience focused on satisfying customers the first time.  Every single employee believes in “powered by service” without exception.  Each has internalized the effect each customer-related touchpoint, direct or indirect, has on that overall experience.  Otherwise, the business model falls apart.

Zappos hires people for cultural fit, looking for commitment to 10 core values that employees re-interpret on a yearly basis. Zappos culture is as much internally as it is externally focused.  Based on positive psychology, happiness and satisfaction are a function of how much control and progress an employee perceives s/he has, how connected s/he feels to the organization and whether s/he is part of something greater than the individual. Anyone who doesn’t buy in is encouraged to leave within the first few weeks rather than risk cultural mismatch. 

While at Surfaces, I toured Zappos.com headquarters – something anyone can do; simply go online and make a reservation – to experience the legendary, even extreme customer service oriented Zappos culture and meet the people of Zappos.  From Zack who picked me up to Pam who led my solo tour and the many people in between, I encountered the real ‘powered by service’ deal: authentically passionate individuals committed to the company’s success and to customers’ delight.

Here’s how you might bring ‘powered by service’ to your organization.

  • It starts at the top.  Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh routinely answers customer service calls.  He actively monitors and interacts on Twitter, the micro-blogging platform, listening to customers. He is easily accessible: you will find no offices, only workstations and conference rooms.
  • Show employees you care; make employees’ lives easier so they can focus 110%+ on delivering service.  The Zappos reception area is more like a concierge desk where employees make travel arrangements and have dry cleaning picked-up or delivered.  Have a package to receive or send out? Do so from Zappos.  Working the night shift and need a nap? There’s a place for that.  Hungry? Zappos offers free meals.  Need financial or nutritional advice? Meet with a consultant.  Feeling down and losing focus as an organization?  Count on a motivational speaker to put things back into perspective.
  • Combine structure with flexibility.  Core Zappos values provide the structure; they are renewed and reaffirmed every year.  The environment may be casual and creative, but goals and expectations are clearly stated and employees are empowered to deliver on them cooperatively, courteously and positively.
  • ‘Powered by Service’ is a collaborative process.  Everyone at Zappos goes through cross training to better understand the company and how each other’s role affects others’.  Cross training makes it easier to help out during crunch times. 
I left with a copy of the Zappos 2009 Culture Book, a motivational business book [The 4-Hour Workweek] from the Zappos library, a Zappos t-shirt, a Polaroid of me in the Royalty chair complete with Zappos crown [which doubles up as a foot sizer], many pictures [including one of me at Tony’s desk] and a deep appreciation for ‘powered by service’.

Powered by service’ represents a deep commitment to customers – external and internal – and an upbeat other-focused attitude or culture that both employees and corporation live by. It’s hard to fake and it comes through in every action taken. It also creates a strong competitive differentiator and generates profitability.

How might you and your company become 'powered by service'?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Renee LeCroy, Don's Carpet One, VP Sales and Marketing

Renee LeCroy, Don's Carpet One, VP Sales and Marketing
Meet Renee LeCroy, VP Sales and Marketing with Don's Carpet One in Birmingham, AL, flooring fairy godmother and marketer extraordinaire.  She's also a serious Woman in Flooring.

You'll find this interview with Renee valuable not just because she offers terrific perspective on the retail experience, but also because she has successfully integrated social media marketing into her flooring business, going so far as to participate in Bathroom Blogfest 2010!

C.B.: Renee, please tell me about yourself. 

You’re going to have trouble believing this given my youthful appearance, but I’ve been in the flooring business for 18 years. I am now the vice president of sales and marketing at Don’s Carpet One. I’m married with 2 kids—a high schooler and a college girl. On the side, I love to sing in the church choir, play on the lake and dominate my Bunko group.

C.B.:  How did you get started in flooring?

In college, I never really thought about working in flooring. I was all about sales and marketing. I was working in television when a friend referred me to Don’s. I came in on the marketing side and my role there has evolved over the years. In that time I’ve truly been in the trenches, getting to know flooring from every angle.

C.B.: What do you like least and most about the flooring industry? 

I love that the flooring industry is ever-changing. It’s a fashion industry, and because of that there are constantly new products and new developments. I love exploring them and educating customers about the latest and the greatest.

With that said, you are dealing with a product that customers are only buying 2-3 time in their life. Because they have been inundated with misinformation, they sometimes come in with unrealistic expectations. Every manufacturer and retailer has their own language. It’s a challenge to override that and get us all on the same page.

C.B. What 5 things would you do differently to improve the retail flooring experience?

1. Each showroom should be equipped with Internet capability. The customer needs to show us what she’s seen.

2. The sales experience should start at home. A dentist doesn’t give you a root canal without looking in your mouth! We need to get inside and see the space so we can make good recommendations.

3. Customers should be better educated about installation. What should she expect pre- and post- installation?

4. Warranties need explanation. The customer should know her end of the bargain on floor maintenance to get maximum life out of her purchase.

5. Quotes should be detailed proposals, complete with options, so she can make an informed decision.

Renee LeCroy, Your Fifth Wall
C.B.:  Amen to all that, Renee!  What got you started in social media? 

I have a dear friend (a Bunko buddy none-the-less) who had delved into social media and had great success for her business. She was convinced I had a story to tell. And here we are...

C.B.: How do you use Twitter, Facebook and your blog? What are your favorite topics of discussion online?

Social media starts with a blog. Mine is Your Fifth Wall. It’s a place to lay all your thoughts out and open the channels for discussion. I use Twitter and Facebook as touch points, but Your Fifth Wall is certainly the hub or the anchor of my online presence. I love to talk about floor maintenance, new product entries and installation. But truly I like discuss just about anything!

C.B.: How has that affected your in-store business?

We see the blog as more of a foundation. We use it to distribute information and gain trust. While we have seen an increase in business, we see more value in the relationships we are building for the long-term.

C.B.: How do you balance the time it takes to participate in social media with your other obligations? Do others in your organization participate with you? 

I wear a ton of hats at work. Finding the time to blog is definitely a challenge. I wouldn’t pretend to do it by myself. While the concepts and information are all mine, we keep a retainer with an advertising agency to help with the writing and the fine print. I couldn’t do it without them.

C.B: What are the biggest surprises you’ve experienced as a result of participating in social media?

TIME! I had no idea how much effort it would take to keep the blog posts coming. It’s also intriguing that I can now see blog potential in almost everything I do. We have so much information to share. It’s overwhelming!

C.B.: Renee, any words of advice for retailers? 

Do not launch a “stop and start” or “drop and drag” philosophy social media campaign. What on earth do I mean? Don’t start social media by just opening a Facebook or a Twitter account and then leaving it unattended. And for heaven’s sake, don’t use homogeneous, regurgitated information. One size does not fit all! Readers want to see the real you and hear the valuable information you have to offer. Create a dialogue online. I can promise you won’t be sorry.

Thanks, Renee, for sharing such terrific advice and perspective!  I've heard so many good things about your store and retail experience, and hope to come visit soon.

Here's how to contact Renee:
Comments, questions, reactions? Have you implemented any of the suggestions Renee shares about improving the retail experience in flooring?  What about her advice on implementing social media? What has your experience been?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Retail Experience in the News - 1/21/11

Wordle: #retailexp For your reading pleasure, here is Retail Experience in the News...  for 1/21/11 recapping the latest articles and links shared on Twitter with the #retailexp hashtag this past week.

I found particularly interesting how Walgreen's is reinventing the grocery store [and drugstore at Duane Reed] experience by focusing locally.

Notice also the potential that mobile holds for the retail experience. The links included below already inspired a post - also included below.

I'll be at Surfaces 2011 - the annual flooring trade show - in Las Vegas next week keeping very busy [see Press Release: Surfaces 2011 Education Sessions Focus On Connecting With Customers] - which means that I won't be able to share links and resources with you next week. If you come across some, though, that you find particularly interesting please do share them on Twitter using #retailexp or leave a reference in the comments and I'll recap them the following week.

Retail Experience and Customer Service

Retail Experience Ideas

Integrating Online with Offline

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

For previous issues of Retail Experience In The News, see Retail Experience News.

Graphic Created Via Wordle.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Customers, Digital Devices, The Retail Experience

Customers, Digital Devices, The Retail ExperienceWould you agree that customers are precious? That their decision to shop with us and eventually purchase from us benefits us? That they have plenty of options for spending their hard-earned resources? That they deserve our patience and respect, not to mention a memorable retail experience for opting to buy from us? Even if they use digital devices?

I believe this intensely.

And, yet, I'm not so sure that everyone in retail - or in business for that matter - believes this.

A recent group discussion on LinkedIn suggested as much and had me thinking about the role customers play in the retail experience, the relationship between customers and retailers and the role digital devices play for customers and retailers.

Heavy stuff that started with a question John Simonson asked about the use of mobile devices at retail as part of the retail experience. Perhaps you remember Smartphone GPS Apps & The Customer Experience, my post about smartphones and the retail experience. Although the trend is just beginning, I believe that we will be seeing, hearing and reading a lot more about mobile devices being used at retail.

Here's a recent sampling of articles relevant to 'customers, digital devices and the retail experience':

Customers are changing. They are educating themselves intensely before shopping and thoroughly enjoying using digital tools and mobile devices to make the retail shopping experience more enjoyable and regain control. Interestingly, according to a Motorola Survey: Shoppers better connected to information than store associates.

At the same time, these tools offer opportunities to retailers to reinvent the retail experience. Did you know that Customer Defection Can be Stopped, and Loyalty Can be Restored thanks to digital tools? Can you offer your shoppers ways to share the experience and be more digitally social?

Here are more ideas: Marketing to Shoppers at Every Touchpoint details opportunities to connect with shoppers pre-shop, in-store and post-shop with digital devices.

As aggravating as customers may appear to you as they pull out their smartphone to research products in-store, consider the opportunities available to you to provide information, facilitate solutions and immediately address customer service issues.

Talk about creating a memorable retail experience worth returning to.

What do you think?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Retail Experience in the News - 1/14/11

Retail Experience in the News Wow! Already here is the 1/14/11 issue of Retail Experience in the News...  recapping the latest articles and links shared on Twitter with the #retailexp hashtag this past week.

Retail Experience and Customer Service

The Economy/Consumers

Retail Experience Ideas

Integrating Online with Offline

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

For previous issues of Retail Experience In The News, see Retail Experience News.

Graphic Created Via Wordle.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Simple Marketing Now Update - December 2010

Simplify Your Marketing!


Happy New Year!  How did your first week of 2011 go? I enjoyed getting back into the swing. I had so much going on that it felt more as if three weeks had gone by rather than one. Several friends said they felt the same...

Here follows the December 2010 update from Simple Marketing Now with posts categorized into Social Media Marketing Resources and Simple Marketing News.

[If you are new to Flooring The Consumer, I also write the Simple Marketing Blog where I discuss marketing strategy and creative, practical, simple marketing approaches and share best practices - many of which may be relevant to you and your business as you consider what's possible. The blog also acts as newsroom for Simple Marketing Now.]

Simple Marketing News for December 2010

Coverings 2010 was an amazing experience during which I met several talented designers and retailers. It also let to the following profile that friend Veronika Miller shared: Modenus Writes About New Friend CB Whittemore. I'm so pleased that I'll be returning to Coverings in 2011...

This post needs no explanation: Wishing You The Best For the Holidays!

Social Media Marketing Resources:

Having covered Twitter and LinkedIn, the TalkFloor Social Media Marketing series has moved on to Google. In this next interview with Dave Foster, I explore Google for Visibility: TalkFloor Social Media Marketing Series. We covered a lot of territory in the interview. If you listen in, will you let me know what resonated most?

If you're intrigued with Twitter, I recommend that you explore Twitter Chats. Here's why and How:  How Do I : Twitter Chat?

On the content marketing front, I contributed perspectives in the following posts:
Finding Internal Content Marketing Allies
13 Inspiring Content Marketing Examples

What to create a LinkedIn profile that stands out? You'll enjoy this summary of LinkedIn resources based on the event that took place in December: Making Your LinkedIn Profile Pop: CBSAC/NY Social Media Marketing Event

Finally, here are the latest links to articles and news about practical marketing on Twitter, coded #PracticalMktr: Practical Simple Marketing In The News - 12/14/10

As always, Thank You for reading.

Have a wonderful January.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Retail Experience in the News - 1/7/11

Wordle: #retailexp Happy New Year 2011! Here is the first 2011 issue of Retail Experience in the News...  recapping the latest articles and links shared on Twitter with the #retailexp hashtag this past week.

Retail Experience and Customer Service

The Economy/Consumers

Retail Experience Ideas

Integrating Online with Offline

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

For previous issues of Retail Experience In The News, see Retail Experience News.

Graphic Created Via Wordle.

Monday, January 03, 2011

NYC's 2010 Holiday Windows

NYC 2009 Holiday Windows - Macy's
Macy's - 2009 Gold Award from DDI Magazine
I love retail store windows - particularly at holiday time - and thought you might enjoy a virtual overview of NYC's 2010 Holiday Windows.

After all, store window displays communicate so much about the retail store within to passers-by: passion, imagination, product selection, commitment to the customer experience... Don't you think?

NYC's 2010 Holiday Windows

The best place to start for this virtual tour is via PSFK's Best of the 2010 NYC Holiday Windows with photos of Bergdorf Goodman, ABC Carpet and Home, Anthropologie, Barneys, Calvin Klein, CITE, Diesel, Dior, Flos, Hermes, Moss, Paul Smith, and Polo Ralph Lauren.

The post links to David Pinter's 2010 Holiday Windows Flickr photo set which you can enjoy via Fashion Trendsetter's Best of the 2010 Holiday Windows. The slideshow is breathtaking!

Bergdorf Goodman's windows were, once again, phenomenal and well covered in articles. By the way, they consider themselves to be in the "Surprise Business" - isn't that delicious?

Bergdorf surprised this year by creating a Holiday Windows Challenge in conjunction with Polyvore. You can read about it in Bergdorf Goodman's blog - 5th/58th - in a post titled And the Winner is...  

Check out the making of those windows in The Classicist: Bergdorf Goodman Unveils High-Tech Holiday Windows [video] titled Follow Me: the Making of Bergdorf Goodman's 2010 Holiday Windows with music by emerging artist Audrianna Cole [love her "Follow Me"!]. Note that the post refers to QR Codes for an online gift finder and the Follow Me video. Very cool.

Here is Sphere Trending's post: Holiday Trendspotting - Bergdorf Goodman.

Macy's NYC Holiday windows captured the magic via Virginia [Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus] and a 1000 reasons to Believe. Check out these resources:
Speaking of Bloomingdale's, not everyone liked theirs: Bloomingdale's Holiday Display: a New Low for all Windows

This display reminds me of the kind of magnificent timed spectaclesI've encountered in Las Vegas: Saks Fifth Ave Snowflake & Bubble 3D projection 2010

Having [virtually] seen all of this, it's no surprise, then, to read eMarketer's take on how department stores have incorporated technology into their Holiday window displays in an article titled "Department Stores Take Digital Out-of-Home Marketing to New Heights". Most fascinating is the deliberate integration of technology to give shoppers a reason to visit physical stores rather than shop entirely online - aka 'digital out-of-home' marketing. Talk about creating a memorable retail experience for customers!

2009 NYC Holiday Windows

To Put the 2010 NYC Holiday Windows into perspective, I thought I'd share with you 2009 Holiday Windows Itinerary  - Department Store Christmas Displays as well as a few photos I took at the end of the 2009 Holiday season, when I took my daughter in to NYC to check out the windows.

In her mind, Macy's was number one [she loved the focus on Letters to Santa and the interactive displays], Lord & Taylor second [you can't beat the amazingly detailed storytelling that L&T does at Christmas] and Saks a very distant third with what seemed to be overly commercial references to Microsoft in every single window.

NYC 2009 Holiday Windows - L&T
Lord & Taylor's window
NYC 2009 Holiday Windows - More L&T
More Lord & Taylor
NYC 2009 Holiday Windows - another L&T
More yet of Lord & Taylor's windows
NYC 2009 Holiday Windows - Macy's
Macy's window
NYC 2009 Holiday Windows - Macy's Santa Letter
Macy's Write a Letter to Santa Device
How's this story for reinforcing a brand's commitment to the customer experience? Lego Shop Rushes Watch to Child's Door for Christmas.

I'd love to hear your take on Holiday Windows. What trends did you observe as you checked out Holiday windows in your neck-of-the-woods? How have you integrated some of those observations into your own windows to create memorable 'out-of-home' retail experiences?
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