Monday, September 24, 2012

Customer Service Online and Off

In the past week or so, I've been doing more online shopping than I have in the past year. I tend to avoid it because many online sites don't collect sales tax and I'd rather pay it, and also because of some sketchy employment practices by some of the bigger online retailers. The increase of online shopping has been an intersection of gift cards, online coupons, and the fact that something I wanted wasn't available in my size in a local shop.

As a marketer, I am always looking at the advertising, messaging, packaging of any company that I purchase from. I love to ask the question, "Why does this appeal to me?" and think about how the same thing might be applied in my own work with my own customers. I was particularly struck this week by two of the emails I got, related to my online experiences at two different retailers.

The first one was from Brooks Brothers. I don't normally shop there (although my husband does), mostly because they are fairly expensive. However, I have a penchant for carrying handkerchiefs to blow my nose (we can discuss the ecological and medical arguments about this later), and I seem to have fewer of them than ever. Brooks Brothers is one of the few retailers that actually sells nice, soft handkerchiefs. (I have bought them at Macy's and other department stores, but those are usually so rough that you end up with a raw nose.)

What I found very interesting about Brooks Brothers' online shopping experience is that they charge a shipping rate based on how much your order costs. The handkerchiefs I ordered retail at $30. Based on their shipping rate chart, this would cost me $8.95 in shipping. Had those same handkerchiefs cost $6 less, the shipping charge would be $5.95. I've never seen a shipping chart like it.

I ended up searching the Ebates website for a coupon code, and I managed to find one that took 20% off the price, dropping the order into the lower shipping bracket. In a few minutes, I received my confirmation email:

The language is so utterly in line with every Brooks Brothers experience I have ever had:
Thank you for placing an order with We are writing to inform you that your order has been received and is, at present, being processed with the utmost haste. 
I can almost hear the polished staff uttering these polished words as he hands me a heavy pressed paper blue bag with the golden fleece logo. 

Isn't that amazing?

In contrast, today I placed an order with Ann Taylor. Ann Taylor is one of my preferred shopping locations, and probably 75% of my wardrobe comes from there. They have terrific email marketing, with great photography and multiple stylings of the same items, helping you to see the flexibility of their pieces.

Sure their models are a little on the skinny side (and yes I know it's Photoshopped), but they helpfully let me know where the nearest physical locations are in addition to telling me about the online sale going on.

And yet, for all those beautiful "come buy!" emails, their confirmation emails are dismal. I won't even show you a screenshot, because it's nothing but a list of the items (no images), everything in text, and no headers--it's the online equivalent of a grocery store's printed receipt. Boring. Even Banana Republic (another place I've shopped in the past two weeks online), sends you a picture of the item in your confirmation email. (Why is this so important? So I can pull up the email and show a friend just what I ordered.)

Brooks Brothers is a company that prides itself on its customer experience. I have been to their store in Back Bay many times with my husband to buy shirts, suits, and ties, and I love going there because the staff never treats me as if I'm just hanging around. They ask me if I'd like a chair to sit down, they include me in the process of evaluating one tie pattern over another, and they smile and thank me for my visit as much as if I had also purchased something. Their online experience is a complete mimic of this, from the confirmation email telling me how much they value on my online order.

Ann Taylor is missing this follow up online. I've been an excellent customer of theirs for many years, and yet, when I purchase online, I always feel that once I click "Submit" on my order, they're done with me. This is so contrary to my store experiences, where staff tend to be super friendly and helpful. ("We don't have that in a size 8, but let me check the three nearest stores and we can have that shipped to your home.")

For companies that have both an online and a physical presence, it's important to have consistency between your outlets. The reason I prefer shopping in person is because I do get a better customer experience dealing with people and not machines. And yet, as Brooks Brothers shows, you can absolutely replicate that experience online.

How you do make the transition from in-person to online with your marketing and customer experience?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Changing Media Consumption Habits

This weekend, my husband and I went down to the venerable Apple store and purchased an Apple TV box. It's this teeny tiny little thing, maybe 4" x 4" x 1" (roughly the size of a gift box for a bracelet), with a few outlets in the back. It came with the world's smalled remote (about as long as my watch).

We had been kicking around the idea of buying an Apple TV setup for over a year, holding out because for a long while, our favorite show, Mysteries at the Museum, was not available on any of the services you can view on Apple TV. Now it is.

And so, we're bidding adieu to DirecTV. Don't get me wrong, DirecTV has been fantastic with customer support and the offerings on even their smallest and most basic packages. I switched to them four years ago when I finally got sick of Comcast taking channels away from me and then pretending I shouldn't have had them in the first place. (You try being a political junkie with NO NEWS CHANNELS during an election year.)

However, DirecTV costs a significant amount of money each month, and as I'm focusing on spending my money on other things, it only made sense to switch. The Apple TV box costs $99 (plus tax) and for $7.99 per month I can get a subscription to Netflix. That sure beats the $80ish I pay now.

What's interesting about the switch is that it makes me realize just how much media consumption is changing. When I was a kid, you flipped the channels until you found something you wanted to watch, took bathroom breaks during commercials, and if nothing was on, you went outside or read a book or called a friend. If a show was on Tuesdays at 8:00 pm, you made sure to turn on the TV at that time. And we all watched shows at the same times.

In the past few years, I've gotten used to DVR. I fast forward through commercials, tell the TV what I feel like watching, and then watch it when I feel like it. I didn't watch the DNC or RNC speeches live; I read the reviews of the speeches and then watched the ones I thought were worth watching on YouTube.

When I told my father-in-law about our move to AppleTV, he asked, "How are you going to watch the local news?" I haven't watched the local news since.... ever. Okay, I'll watch it if it's on at the gym, or if I'm at my father-in-law's house and he's watching it, but basically, I don't consume local news on television. I read news online, get it from Twitter, or listen to the local NPR station on my iPhone app.

My father loves to tell the story of how, when I was very young, the only television I could watch was Sesame Street, and so I developed the idea that Sesame Street came on whenever you turned on the television. I was very upset when my dad said I couldn't watch Sesame Street after dinner, because I thought he was just saying no, when what he meant was, Sesame Street isn't on television at that time. Today, he just pulls up YouTube to watch Grover and Elmo with my nephew, whenever my nephew wants to watch Sesame Street.

Television is everywhere today, and it can be consumed in so many ways: streaming, subscription, DVR, DVD, BluRay, mobile... and who knows what will come next. How have you changed your media consumption habits?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Who Is Tracking You Online?

Online tracking is a fact of life on the Internet. We all know that somehow, some way, websites gather and collect information about each of us as we wend our way through cyberspace.

Why does this matter?

Privacy-hounds are constantly decrying tracking from company sites and third parties. Facebook is tracking you! Google is tracking you! CNN is tracking you! And who knows what other shadowy figures lurk in morass of code, looking for credit card numbers or other valuable data.

But there are positives in this tracking equation. Tracking helps companies like Google deliver better search results to you personally, by knowing that when you are searching for the term "rockets," based on your search history, you're probably more interested in NASA than the basketball team. Tracking means that the ads you see on websites are more likely to be for things that you're interested in.

Still, the idea that people are constantly collecting information on you is a little irksome. And while I might not mind Google tracking me, I don't really need a lot of advertisers tracking me.

So today, I stumbled on an article via Google+: This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity. The article's author, Samantha Felix, installed a new software program, Do Not Track +, and within a single browsing session, found that Facebook had made over 300 requests to track her information. THREE HUNDRED REQUESTS. Wowsers.

Facebook is definitely low on my trust-worthy websites list, mostly because they don't seem to care about users' privacy or anything besides making money and world domination (and not in the good Napoleon-type way of world domination, either). So, since the Do Not Track + software is free, I downloaded it for my Chrome browser. (You can download your own DNT+ here.)

In the first fifteen minutes, I found it had blocked almost 200 requests for tracking information, from the  following sites: New York Times, Business Insider, a local business I looked up, and Google+. (After visiting other Google properties--Gmail, G+, Blogger--I find that only Google itself is requesting tracking info on these sites.) Interesting.

How do you feel about online tracking? Is it useful for you? Or do you see it as an invasion of your online privacy?