Tag Archives: customer service

Why I’m a Rude Shopper

I can’t remember the last time a Kroger cashier thanked me first. They’ve reduced the number of staffed checkout lines and replaced them with mostly self check-out, which is a topic for another post about stealing. So there is at least 60% less human interaction than there was fifteen years ago, and today’s interactions tend to be robotic and thankless.

Many Kroger stores have a great organic section and the prices are very competitive, so I tolerate it. Publix has an abysmal organic section with a few overpriced, bruised Fujis and some wilted lettuce for $6, but better customer service. I’d rather go to Kroger and pay less for better produce with a subpar checkout experience than get gouged at Publix for a mealy apple with a smile.

woman with basket facing produce aisle

This may seem contradictory to the point of this post, but stay with me. In the end, I want value, and I’ve become accustomed to poor service because I live in this world. But I do one thing, which may make me seem rude, because I’m holding out for something better.

One woman who works the mailroom at my building doesn’t even say hello when a resident walks in. She just waits for you to ask for your package, then silently skulks off to fetch it. She hates her job. (She is the only bad egg there – the rest of the staff is pretty pleasant, and the manager is a real gem.) But interacting with her leaves a film of bad juju on you for at least an hour.

boxes and packages stacked on shelf
Hey Chewy!

This is the opposite of customer delight. Remember my post about the clunky way that customers have to sign up for a Target RedCard? Similarly, in order to cancel your LA Fitness membership, you need to log in to LAFitness.com then print and either mail or bring in a cancellation form Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM, when most people are at work. Here’s Step 1 after clicking on the form. It contains nothing more than your name and ID. You don’t even sign it. I enjoyed the irony of the third “choice”: you have to mail a hard copy but they cannot confirm receipt of said form unless you have an email address. Then why can’t it all be done via email? Of course it could. Nice retention model: inconvenience. The customer-last nature of that policy alone would compel me to cancel if I didn’t already have a bunch of reasons. (I haven’t been a member for years, I just return to this example because it’s so often salient when I talk about customer service.)

Make Eye Contact and Say Hello

It’s all too common that during a store checkout or badge swiping at a gym, the cashier or greeter senses your presence without looking up. Items are scanned or a key fob is swiped. There’s no eye contact or greeting. And there’s no “thank-you” afterward, unless it comes from the customer. Of course some businesses have excellent customer service, and Stan Phelps has collected some fantastic purple goldfish examples, but it seems to be increasingly rare.

out of focus business people waiting in lineOver time, the effect of being shuffled through impersonal assembly line transactions has a negative impact on all of us. And when a cashier at Whole Foods actually says hello, smiles, and thanks you, you don’t mind paying for the experience. Note: Whole Foods is only Whole Paycheck if you shop the aisles and buy pre-prepared foods.

The difference made by a cashier or server who makes eye contact, offers a greeting, and thanks me first upon payment is a contrast to most transactions. We’ve come to expect the exchange of money for goods to be mechanical. Where the customer is seen as polite by offering thanks first. (If the salesperson did something to help you, like finding your blouse size, of course thanking them first makes sense, because it’s for a specific action. But for the transaction itself, no.) The person taking the money should thank the customer first. And the customer should say, “you’re welcome, and thank you.” The order matters. Maybe this is why we love to shop online: although the thank-you page is automated, at least it happens in the right sequence.

Thank you for shopping with us today, [smile], we appreciate your business.

You’re welcome, and I look forward to returning.

I would like to close this with a strong statement like, “This is how you stay in business.” But that would be a lie, because tons of retailers and stores don’t train their employees to interact with gratitude and politeness, and these businesses are well in the black. Maybe our widespread addiction to phone checking, which really equals checking out of the present moment, has created a status quo in which rudeness is acceptable. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Either way, I’m holding out – I don’t thank first when I hand over money.

Review: Ergo Desktop Hybrid Kangaroo Standing Desk

An ideal standing desk supports ergonomic posture and lets you easily change from sitting to standing. The Ergo Desktop Hybrid Kangaroo delivers on these characteristics and more. There is no question that prolonged sitting is bad for your health. But it’s important to choose the right standing desk. This is my second Ergo Desktop desk. Keywords: Quality, stability, and adjustability. It’s made in the USA and customized to your settings. At $599, the Hybrid Kangaroo is not the cheapest nor most expensive on the market, but it’s one of my favorites.
Emily working at her standing desk
Standing at my Hybrid Kangaroo in my old cube (2016): monitor left, laptop right

What is the Hybrid Kangaroo?

This is a freestanding, height adjustable desk add-on made for a monitor and laptop. The unit sits on a broad, sturdy footplate which can be slid around your desktop. A rear mounted vertical riser is fixed to the footplate. A work surface for your keyboard and mouse is attached to the riser. Easily adjust it up or down by turning the knob on the riser.
Kangaroo standing desk in office
My office (2017): badass Ergo Desktop standing desk,  Ergodriven topographic floor mat, incandescent light, two VoIP phones, and a door.

Will it Fit? Cubicle and Desk Size

My first standing desk was a Dual Hybrid Kangaroo, also by Ergo Desktop, and similar to the Hybrid Kangaroo, but it had two shelves instead of one. Then I had a private office with a large desk surface. While at a startup, I had a standard size cube (first photo above). My Hybrid Kangaroo has a shelf plus a VESA mount (where my monitor is mounted). The Hybrid Kangaroo fit fine in my cube. Now I’m back in an office and damn, it looks good (second photo above). The two models have the same footprint:
  • the main work surface is adjustable 16.5″ above your desk and measures 28″ wide x 24″ deep.
Some people complain about reduced workspace with add-on desks, but I have no problem here and frankly don’t often need a physical writing surface (or a printer for that matter) anyway.
Ergo Desktop Hybrid Kangaroo at Emily's office
My Hybrid Kangaroo setup in the old cube – ergonomic AF

Vote with Your Dollar

Ergo Desktop’s customer service is excellent. As a marketer, I’m sensitive to every aspect of the customer experience, from advertising to website to product description to transactional emails. Brad at Ergo Desktop was responsive, professional, and most important, highly knowledgeable about his products. You get the sense that this company cares. Ohio people, right? 🙂 They also have a 100% quality guarantee.

Continue reading Review: Ergo Desktop Hybrid Kangaroo Standing Desk

Target With Digital Then Lick a Stamp

After a MapMyRun jog last week, a Houlihan’s ad pop up promoting their Inspiralized Menu. I follow the trend toward healthier menus and food labeling transparency, so I tweeted about the ad from a marketing angle, not intending to promote the restaurant. The Houlihan’s social team picked up my post, took it as a compliment (which it really was), and mailed me a $25 gift card.

Screenshot of tweet about Houlihan's Inspiralized Menu
Tweet with screenshot of Houlihan’s MapMyRun ad for Inspiralized Menu
By 2016, 89% of brands expect to compete solely on customer experience (Gartner, 2014). This gift card is a great example of G.L.U.E. (Giving Little Unexpected Extras, as Stan Phelps calls it). I’ve been a fan of Stan’s marketing lagniappe concept for years. It refers to a little something extra thrown in for good measure.
It appears that Houlihan’s personally @ messages anyone who tweets about their brand with positive sentiment. Perhaps they utilize a more in-depth analysis resulting in only offering this reward to users with a certain amount of influence or likelihood to dine. ​ ​Because any egghead can tweet about a brand; only certain tweets are really worth anything as far as advertising.
Personalized gift card and letter from Houlihan's
Personalized gift card and note from Houlihan’s
This begs the question: as marketers, should we invest time in harnessing social data and finding a formula for which users to reward, or just produce thousands of gift cards and offer them to anyone who tweets about our brand?
Even at the cost of the latter, what may seem like spaghetti on the wall is fine with me; marketing dollars are often squandered on mediums like TV, billboards, and display advertising that can’t be reliably measured. Some digital ad platforms have numerous deliverability issues and often abysmal conversion rates. Even on the more targeted and trackable side of cookies, drip campaigns, and big data-based social targeting, digital has become so personalized that nothing feels personal.
old mailbox
Photo credit: Xaiver Massa
The Houlihan’s tactic of using social and snail mail is one-to-one marketing. What has become a throwback can stand out. Haven’t you noticed how popular TBT is? Digital is saturated, but is a great way to initially target. Identify customers there, then try reaching out via the postal service, or another method that will catch them a little off guard. Another promoted post might not cut it.
Better geo-targeting would be beneficial, however; only serve this ad to users who live near a Houlihan’s (the nearest location is 107 miles from me). Whether this acquisition pans out or not, I couldn’t help but feel more affinity toward the brand. And here I am writing about them. That is certainly worth their ~10 minutes of labor and $25 plus production and postage.

Houlihan’s Marketing – HQ, HouliFans, and PR

Houlihan’s has a successful history of using social media and WOM techniques to identify brand ambassadors and derive valuable information from them. SVP Marketing and Creative Director Jen Gulvik worked on the 2008 idea for HQ, an invite-only social network of engaged customers with insider news and one-on-one dialogue, resulting in a ready made focus group. It encouraged customer loyalty and resulted in revenue growth based on menu feedback.
Their marketing team continues to handle the brand with poise, recently diffusing a potential PR crisis on Facebook involving a veteran with a service dog being refused service in Algonquin, IL in May 2015. A mix of intuition and good data in digital plus differentiating lagniappes in the physical world will help keep their tables full.

Technology Means Fair Play – Parking Apps

By the end of 2016, all parking meters in New York City will accept payment via mobile app. New York isn’t the first city to offer mobile parking meter payment (joining Boston, Fort Worth, Seattle, SLC, and others) and it won’t be the last. Interesting: unused parking meter money will be refunded to users. This is one of very few situations in which the government would volunteer to forfeit funds already in their possession. Historically, they may have kept monies in similar cases of overpayment to increase revenue or more likely to avoid the cost of processing more paperwork. Losses in annual revenue due to the refund feature are expected to be nominal, so it’s likely the latter.

New York City street with cars and taxis
Photo by Jon Ottosson

When technology makes transactions more seamless, it’s harder for either party not to play fair.

As the cloud replaces paper and user generated content competes with traditional journalism for greater media share of voice, policies that have served vendors and governments will give way to ones that serve users. Revenues from happy customers and their repeat purchases will characterize businesses that survive, rather than policies that hurt users but previously were not fought due to acceptance and a lower tech status quo.

Fine print, one-sided policies, and rigid contracts will go the way of the horse drawn carriage (and probably soon, the taxi). Keep an eye on companies like T-Mobile and Spirit Airlines. They put customers in control by foregoing required contracts, forced add-ons (e.g., paying for bags and peanuts), and in general offer more a la carte products. “We’ve never done it that way” and “our system wouldn’t support that” won’t be able to compete.

Reduce Commerce Friction: Travel and Hospitality

Remove friction from the customer experience, make the sale more likely. We are seeing a trend in travel and hospitality to make transactions and guest experiences hassle-free, higher tech, and less reliant upon hard copies and hard people. Make mobile device use free, experience-enhancing, and rewarding, and incremental revenue-generating for vendors – stay in business.

Travel and hospitality companies that don’t prioritize automation and mobility won’t be here in five years.

You can already see the market for a frictionless, more seamless guest experience in the successful offerings of progressive car rental companies like Silvercarairlines like SurfAirPorter, and Virgin, hotel chains like IHG with the health-themed, wristband-based EVEN Hotels, Marriott with Moxy, etc. Reduce check-in time, reduce waits, reduce error-prone interactions with agents. Move the printed rental contract to the cloud. Take a snooty or busy or bribed human concierge and replace them with an app. Develop culturally sensitive sub-brands focused on different market needs and smarter guest profiling. The obvious fixes abound.
Silvercar homepage screenshot
While I loathe both of these resorts, I should touch on theme parks: Disney and SeaWorld are handling the trend well.
 Disney MagicBand family
Disney World’s MyMagic+ is a billion-dollar tech project that includes hotel and resort-wide WiFi and microchip-embedded wristbands that interact with sensors throughout the park and link to a reservation system to book attractions weeks in advance. Disney’s MagicBands use radio frequency (RF) technology, replacing theme park tickets and hotel room keys with tap and pay technology. MagicBands and Apple Watch (coming early 2015) both remove commerce friction, i.e., the hassle of getting a phone out of a pocket to tap and pay.

SeaWorld’s 7/15/14 app update incorporated a new mobile payments system. Now guests can use the app to pay for gifts, food, and Quick Queue access at the ride instead of paying in advance via desktop or at the front of the park.

SeaWorld iPhone app

But isn’t disconnecting important?

One could argue that the onslaught of offerings like free WiFi and charging stations at amusement parks and resorts only perpetuates the always-on, distracted state of mind from which a true vacation should provide escape, particularly when with family. If you really want a relaxing unplugged escape, however, you shouldn’t be at Disney or SeaWorld. If a parent uses a theme park’s free WiFi and app to decrease time spent waiting in line, to augment reality and amuse the kids, or to enhance the experience by hashtagging an Instagram photo to get a free Lego toy upon exit, everyone wins (guests, park, and brand). Not to mention that having instant communication via mobile can make a family trip more manageable and efficient – as long as you can find a convenient charging station.
What traditional airlines are doing for connectivity – further reading: