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Monday, January 31, 2011

Telefora experience delivers more effectively than their Super Bowl ad.

In preparation for #BZBowl, I’m experiencing as many of the SuperBowl advertisers’ products & services as possible, comparing whether my service encounter lives up to the promises they make through marketing. Today’s #BZBowl Week post involves Teleflora.

I had completely forgotten that 2011 that Teleflora advertised in the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2010, which is to say that it hadn’t been effective, at least on me.

Both ads were intended as humorous jabs at boxed flowers as inferior products that get inferior results with recipients. The main promise was around experience reliability, that hand-arranged, hand delivered Teleflora arrangements would result in a successful reaction from the recipient. There’s only so much you can do in 30 seconds, but Teleflora tried to go long on humor and missed much of the opportunity to make a complete and meaningful brand promise to potential customers.

But when I used the Teleflora site to purchase flowers for my wife, I noted that the promises made through the interactive experience were different and much more extensive.

They started with the same “fresh flowers, personally arranged and delivered daily” message that reinforces reliability of the experience. However, they placed a heavy emphasis on responsiveness, making a promise of same day delivery on all orders and offering floral suggestions flowers for all occasions. (“Just Because” & “Thinking of You” categories overlapped about 90%, so they may have tried to force the “every occasion” angle a bit. Much)

Teleflora shows empathy with the sender, offering help to those who may find it difficult using their own words to elicit the right emotion. (I decided to rely on my own masterful prose, leaving my spouse with, “Just because I’m thinking of you.”)

The post-order process was full of assurance that my service experience would be executed as I had requested it. A confirmation page & email reiterated the order and set specific expectations about the service to be performed. When the flowers were delivered, I received delivery confirmation from Teleflora even before my wife called to thank me.

At the end of the experience, Teleflora reinforced the commitment to reliability by soliciting my feedback for a product review.

I’ll be interested to see what Super Bowl ad for “The Collection” by Faith Hill brings, but for the 2009 and 2010 versions, the Teleflora interactive marketing and service experience vastly performed the promises made by Super Bowl advertising.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Welcome to #BZBowl Week!

While the nation (world?) readies for this weekend’s Superbowl festivities, I’m readying myself for #BZBowl, the multichannel evaluation of SuperBowl advertisements that plays on Twitter while the game plays in Dallas. The Brainzooming Group acts as host to a terrific set of marketing & advertising experts-fans-geeks who watch the ads with more zeal than the play on the field.

Given that the single day SuperBowl has creeped its way into a full week of activities, I’m doing the same thing in advance of #BZBowl, with a series of Service Encounters posts based on recent experiences with SuperBowl 2011 advertisers.

As a service experience guy, my angle on #BZBowl is to evaluate the gap between the promises advertisers make through external communications & interactive marketing and the service delivery that customers actually receive.

I invite all to follow #BZBowl during the game, participating in the formatted evaluations or just giving feedback on which of this years’ ads you like or dislike.

Will the Rewards be 'Rapid' for customers or Southwest?

In a past post, I complimented Southwest for the simplicity of the Rapid Rewards purchase frequency program. As far as programs that create fiscal bonds with customers go, theirs is one of the most tangible, credible ones I've seen, and one of the few that delights with unexpected surprises. In the airline industry in particular, it stands out as differentiated and unique in value.

So when Southwest announced program changes, including a move from the simple 8 round trips = 1 free flight formula to one that grants points for flights based on the price of the fare, I wasn't initially enthused. I tend towards clarity & simplicity. One of my long standing criticisms of other airlines' programs (several of which I am a member) was that 15,000 miles was as vague to me as 25,000. I never have a sense of how close or far I am from attaining the next reward. With Southwest, however, I always knew whether I was 2 flights or 4 flights away. While I would look for a reason to get that last Southwest round trip, I've never looked for an opportunity to travel an extra 1,500 miles to gain another carrier's reward. A flight is more easily characterized as an experience (transaction, if you must) than an aggregated distance.

Gary Kelly's comments in announcing the changes were one of the few instances I've seen corporatespeak supersede customerspeak for Southwest. He discussed how much time & money Southwest spent on developing the new program ($100M over 5 years) and how the new program should expand revenue and put it on par with American and Delta programs. It was also the first time I've ever noted Southwest outwardly aspiring to a status of the legacy carriers. It draws a stark contrast to ads where Southwest portrays the protector of travelers' pocketbooks, while the legacy carriers are the personification of greed.

The idea that the new rewards program will open rewards purchases up to Hawaiian, Alaskan and international travel are intriguing. One of Southwest's operational and marketing strengths has been how they have maintained resolute focus on the domestic US traveler. To serve them, Southwest created a terrific rewards program that kept customers flying the airline. If Southwest customers aren't interested in international travel, it could be a an additiona benefit without much value.

Still, Southwest has a history of delighting me. When they've made changes, they've often been ones that put more burden on the customer in terms of helping their operation, but that also bring additional customer value, even beyond planes that take off and land on time.

Because of a terrific track record, I'll stay open to these changes as they become more evident. But if the program deteriorates value for customers, Southwest will find itself judged, maybe not in competitor ads, but in the very real court of customer opinion.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Word-of-mouth? I practice word-of-wallet.

Cleaning out my wallet over the weekend, I noticed something unintentional about how I organize information.

My wallet is my tool for my most premium word-of-mouth marketing.

It’s filled with some of the best people I've done business with in my personal and professional life - people who have taken care of me, provided exceptional service, and worked hard with me to create successful outcomes.

I keep their information in my wallet because they're people that make me look better when I link them to others. They're responsive, reliable, and they will take care of anyone I send them as well as they did to me.

Some happen to work for companies whose business reputation is benefited by these outstanding employees. Some work for themselves, in which case their reputation is their business. All of them are front line service providers in whatever their field happens to be.

I carry their information in a distributable format - usually their business cards - so that when I meet someone needing the type of service they provide, I can hook them up with the best I know. In service encounters, a recommendation can establish a high expectation of an experience even for someone who has never had it before. I know that each of my "wallet contacts" embrace the high expectations I have of them (and that they've set with me) and that they are comfortable taking on the equally high expectations of the referred customers I send them.

I'm reasonable at keeping track of all the partners, peers, & clients I’ve worked with over the years. They’re in my address books, my phone, my social networks. While they may enter and re-enter my conscious at various points, they're never gone from my electronic subconscious.

But if you’ve provided exceptional service, to me or to others while I’ve been present, there’s a good chance I keep you close at hand, so that I can make myself look good by introducing people I care about to the best servicepeople I know.

I'm guessing that while others may not use the method I do, most people use a form of reference shorthand that accomplishes the same thing, and I'd be interested in hearing how others spread word-of-mouth about the exceptional service encounters they've experienced.

Core & opportunity customers: never the twain shall meet?

I came across this sign in a Panera Bread yesterday afternoon. It’s a great example of a business attempting to manage the variations in service demand.

In my area, Panera is a highly patronized workplace / hangout for corporate escapists and the self-employed, likely more so than the local Starbucks. Wi-fi access is free and unlimited, excepting the period between 11:00 AM and 1:30 PM, when it isn’t available at all.


11:00 AM to 1:30 PM is the lunch rush. Its prime time for the core service experience of preparing & serving sandwiches and soups to diners - who likely don’t want to compete with businesspeople nursing a coffee for an hour and a half.

Panera knows that their business runs on the mealtime rushes, particularly lunch. But it also knows it can improve profit by increasing demand in the “off-peak” times, and to attract them, it offers a business-friendly environment to people looking for a place to have a coffee and do some online work (or non-work).

Yet it is interesting that while they accommodate the coffee & wi-fi crowd when they have capacity to spare, they make it clear that this business is not preferable to the full meal purchasers that come for lunch. The steps they take – making the restaurant uninviting by turning off free wi-fi – sends a clear message to the as to their relative value as customers.

My questions are these: As a strategy for filling off-peak hours with incremental demand, Panera’s use of free wi-fi seems a good fit. But by clearly rejecting this group in favor of diners during the meal times, do they damage their experience to the spurned segment, and by extension, do they do their brand and long term damage? On the other hand, is this segment preference forgivable by the people who use the coffee and wi-fi experience? If it isn’t, should Panera care?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Domino's shows me my pizza.

Domino's may not yet be considered complete, but I’ve been a fan of the move to quality they've made in full view of their customers and the public.

Quality improvements are often made by companies that have had these issues, but Domino’s has addressed their public perception with a humility and sincerity that we can identify with and cheer for.

Whether through its public apologies for “the video”, public solicitation of feedback via showusyourpizza.com, or the dramatization of their willingness to win back customers one at a time through their advertising, Domino's has demonstrated transparency, personality and a connectedness with its customers trhat few service brands are (sadly) willing to risk.

Yet while I had admired Dominos' recent track record in addressing service quality, I still hadn’t used them in a couple of years, until my wife called me at work with an emergency, “we-left-the-baby-sitter-hanging” situation.

The selection & ordering process at dominos.com was simple. The menu was completely customizable and - even better - I didn't need to register as a frequent customer just to order a pizza.

But what happened after I ordered made me a fan and, more importantly, a returning customer.
After the order submitted, a timeline popped into the order confirmation screen, showing the order preparation & delivery process and the status of my order as it moved. The tracker might be dismissed as gimmicky, but it personalized the service in a unique way, particularly when stage 2 informed me that "Stephen began custom-making my order at 5:12 PM."

Adding a tangible personalization of the experience in the form of greater visibility to the service process, (including using the names of the people involved), are elements of the domino's experience that gave me more assurance over the quality of the outcome. It demonstrated in a for me that their responsiveness to their customers over the quality concerns is not just a marketing or social media response, but a strategy consistently carried out across service touchpoints.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Iconic Brand, Generic Experience

Starbucks got a lot of press this week after announcing changes to their logo.

But it’s the changes to their experience that tell more about their future aspirations.

Last week, I pulled into a Starbucks drive thru to keep myself caffeinated for the last hour of a long drive.

“Thank you for choosing Starbucks. Please order when you’re ready.”

As soon as the words came through the speakerbox, I felt a letdown.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in the Starbucks experience over the years, but the scripted generic greeting broke a part of the service experience for me.

Starbucks’ brand was built in the tradition of the Grateful Dead – not by being the best, but by being “the only ones who do what they do.” Not long ago, I went to Starbucks' (at least partly) because I didn’t believe there was a viable alternative.

By saying that they’re happy we’ve chosen them, they acknowledged (before I was ready for them to) that there are alternatives. That over the years, they moved to the mainstream as the mainstream has moved toward them. That now, they really are just a fast food chain (albeit still one with good service) that happens to sell coffee, rather than “The American 3rd Place” of Howard Schultz’ original vision.

Branding expert Mike Brown (amongst others) pondered over whether the rebranding represents a push toward the iconic, needs-no-words, brand imagery of McDonald's, Nike, and Apple.

Perhaps, but Starbucks was already iconic. For what its worth, so was The Grateful Dead.

The Dead chose to serve a smaller customer base than “the largest market imagineable.” The evolution of the experience, on the other hand, shows Starbucks’ rejection of its large & profitable niche in favor of a much larger customer base made available through the strategy of moving to the mainstream in food retail.

It has had many signposts: The automated espresso machines were the largest change for me, but the gradual extinction of the baristas’ personal expression, the move into grocery stores, the evolution of the food menu, the adoption of drive thru locations were all indicators of a gradual move toward the food retail mean.

Rebranding may be the notice for some that they intend to move, but the experience had begun packing long ago.

It might be a tremendous success - who knows how many records The Dead might have sold if they made a truly commercial pop album - but abandoning a hard-earned base for an attempt at a larger mainstream audience doesn’t always work out.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I'm (Accidentally) an Incompatible Customer.

Our family was in the unfortunate circumstance of traveling over New Year’s Eve. I say unfortunate because we while were staying in a normally reasonable downtown Sheraton, our accompanying two small children made for a poor fit between the hotel and our family as its customers.

Not surprisingly, hotel guests were active well into the night. The room next to us had a loud celebration going, but location wasn’t the issue - it was that way throughout the hotel.

My wife, who always has the needs of our children (and our own need for sleep) in mind, was not pleased with the noise, and thought that we should demand the hotel take action.

After about 2 minutes of frustration, we laughed at ourselves & our suspect plan. We didn’t call the front desk, knowing that there would (and should) be little responsiveness on the part of the hotel. This was a case where we were in the wrong.

It’s fairly well established that people stay up and celebrate on New Year’s Eve, and likely more so in the downtown hotels of any city. Given that we were looking for a quiet environment for small kids and a restful night for ourselves, our family was the incompatible customer in this scenario.

We made do through a relatively loud evening, yet my sympathies were with the hotel on this one. After all, New Year’s represents an extreme for their business in managing customer diversity.

Then, as I was checking out, I stood in line behind a bewildered, until-recently-celebrating young woman whose requests of the front desk included, “Can I get an extra key to my room?” and “Do you happen to have my shoes?” When I moved to the front of the line, the desk attendant shook her head and said to me, “Happens every year.”

That’s right. It does happen every year. Slowly, my sympathy for the hotel began to fade a little. The complete mea culpa turned on my part into some shared blame.

If the incompatibility issue happens every year, then the excuses become less acceptable. With a venue the size we were in, there were any number of things that could be done to minimize the incompatible customer groups. Block out a floor, or reserve corner rooms, for families. Since most reservations are booked online, modify the customer mix by charging more for families, or even refuse a reservation from a family guest. If you do accept the incompatible customer groups, warn at any of several points that their experience may not be ideal this time around.

Incompatible customer groups represent an issue faced by almost every service business. In this case, we were the incompatible customer type that created the service problem. All the same, not planning for a recurring service event places at least some of the blame back on the organization able to note that it “happens every year” but haven’t done anything to change.