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Monday, January 4, 2010

Does your supply chain know what promises your brand is making?

A friend who knows me well gifted me a new service experience this holiday season.

He’d been telling me for some time about Bonobos, his favorite online men’s apparel retailer. While he was always pleased with the pants he’d ordered, it was their service that had won him as a long-term loyal customer. Early in his relationship with them, he’d had to return a pair, and was pleased at the ease and absence of cost of the return transaction.

Excited, I hit the site, ready for my service experience.

The first thing I noticed was their product line: few SKUs, simply arranged with mostly terrific classic styles, but a with some that offer much more flair than I’m used to wearing. As to the return process my friend had employed, Bonobos uses it directly as a positive experience tool, stating on the home page, “Any pant, any time, any reason. We'll pay for standard shipping both ways.” An acknowledgment that a certain amount of returns are expected in order to provide satisfaction on final delivery. Here they also set the expectation that the pants will be long and will likely need to be hemmed, and explain that it is more important

The next thing I found: They’re stocked out. Of almost everything. The site offered me the opportunity for one of their employees, (presumably customer service, though they go by the expectation-creating title of “Ninja”), to contact me when the product(s) I’m looking for come in.

I also noticed that their marketing is designed to be completely permission-based, and they structurally reward customers with savings opportunities for positive word-of-mouth. High marks for both activities.

I emailed the ninjas about their out-of-stock situation, and almost immediately I got a response from one of the ninja managers, essentially apologizing for their popularity and offering to inform me when what I want arrives in stock.

An exceptional service experience?

They're anticipatory in setting up-front expectations, make the experience simple for the user and are quick with an empathetic, personalized response. Those are core aspects of a tremendous service experience. So is day-to-day reliability. I’m also looking for fulfillment of the promise, and understanding and using your service supply chain is critical to creating consistency in the experience that creates a lasting brand impression. Even though I got what I was looking for, and will likely be a happy first-time and repeat customer, with so much out of stock, my experience had overtones of having had to settle.

Not likely what Bonobos intends as a business otherwise thoughtful about their experience and attuned to service and their customers.


Don Richman said...

Hey Chris!

Exceptional post and great, thought-provoking blog. Thank you for your candid analysis of your experience - it is these exact types of customer responses that validate our approach and continue to push us to do better. We are always looking to improve and know we have much room along those lines.

Regarding the stock-outs, you are correct; it was a very busy Holiday season. Good sign for business, but bad experience for first time customers. We are actively working to improve our supply chain and planning processes to avoid this. While part of our strategy is to always stock out of some of our flashier pants as we make limited runs, we want to always have plenty of core SKUs in stock. We will get there.

Along these lines, Andy made specific note of this planning in an article on Inc.com just today actually (http://bit.ly/IncRes) if you're interested.

Please feel free to always reach out at ninjas@bonobos.com and keep us on task - ha. While positive feedback is always great, it's the opposite that actually serves to improve the business as we learn from our mistakes. We welcome both and always love hearing from customers and prospective customers alike! Please also let us know if we can ever help with the standard customer service blocking and tackling.

Happy New Year!

- The Ninjas (via Don Richman)

P.S. - I was having trouble posting the comment through my Bonobos account, so apologies for a link to my personal blog which is linked to my gmail account. Come visit us at http://www.bonobos.com/blog

Chris Reaburn said...


I really appreciate you checking in!

Like I blogged & tweeted, (both of which were responded to quickly, thanks) the experience has been exceptional from beginning to end, with the exception of the limited selection post-holiday. Matching supply with demand is difficult in any environment, and I can imagine with the positive WOM you’ve been getting, there have been several upside surprises in what you’re selling through.

My Khakistans arrived on Saturday, and while they’ll need an alteration (which Bonobos amply established my expectations about) they’re otherwise terrific. I’ll check back once you’ve replenished, as the combination of your service and product have definitely created a repeat customer. (Given the time I’ve spent on it, I'm wandering close to raving fan territory)