The world of business used to run on the model of "product, price, promotion" — when it was perfectly logical to assume that, whether the product was good, bad or utterly indifferent, things would find a way to work out just right.
Then one day the world woke up.
That's according to Micah Solomon, author of the book, "High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service: Inspire Timeless Loyalty in the Demanding World of Social Commerce." Solomon was a featured speaker at last week's Retail Customer Experience Executive Summit in San Diego, focusing on the new age of customer experience and what he calls the "Three-H reality."
So what caused the world to wake up? The Internet factor, Solomon said.
"There was a burnout from marketing promises that didn't work out," he said during the presentation. "Customers stopped believing what your company was saying, unless it matched up to what they were actually experiencing with the brand."
The resulting, post-awakening commercial environment is no longer driven purely by carefully crafted and corporately-driven marketing messages — it's now driven by humans, three types of them in fact.
"The three H's that determine whether your marketing message will work in the real world are: Humans that they [the consumer] know in the real world; humans they interact with in your company; and humans they interact with online," Solomon said.
While the three-H world is a treacherous place to be, retailers have unprecedented power within it, as long as they know where to start. According to Solomon, the best place to start is with exemplary customer service.
Beginning with a perfect product that resonates with the customer, coupled with the caring and friendly delivery of that product, brands can get a foot in the proverbial door of the consumer's bank of experiences. But brands can take that further.
Consumers today feel a greater sense of time urgency than ever before, Solomon said, so tending to customers in a timely fashion is another key step to delivering better customer service. Nordstrom and its personal shopper program, along with Apple and its Genius Bar, are examples of brands putting value on the customer's time. With personalized appointments, shoppers feel valued and that they are getting the attention they require, he said.
Going even further, business can woo deeper customer loyalty when they implement and support an effective problem resolution process — something Solomon calls the "Italian Mama Method."
"You need the Italian mama — you want to channel her," he said. "If you think of a caring parent, maybe even an over-caring parent, one that kisses your 'ouchy' — that's how you need to be with your customers."
Solomon's brand example for the perfect Italian Mama approach was Lego, whose problem resolution process went above and beyond the expected.
"My daughter was two-thirds of the way through building her scale model of Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece Falling Water when she came to me and said she was missing two pieces," Solomon said. "We went on the Lego website and found that they had a no-questions policy for replacing or supplying missing pieces."
And Lego also successfully bandaged the missing piece boo-boo with a personal letter, apologizing for the mistake and informing him that they would be sure to inform the proper department of the error in hopes of preventing any future repetitions.
"That made my daughter and me feel like we were part of the Lego team," he said.
Solomon also stressed the importance of anticipation — giving the customer something they want before they have to ask for it. But anticipatory service is intricately tied to the person delivering that service. Solomon listed five traits that humans should have for providing the perfect preemptive package, they include:
- Warmth that is genuine;
- Empathic skill;
- Team orientation;
- And an optimistic, upbeat attitude.
Bringing his presentation full circle, Solomon acknowledged that change is inevitable, and that what works today in marketing, customer service and customer experience will not necessarily work years into the future. In all likelihood, Darwin's evolutionary theory of survival will apply to retailers who are willing to progress with the times.
"As humans change, change with them and you will succeed."
Photo by Jennifer Boyer.