Marketing makes me sick…

In the stomach…Just thinking about it.

Or so a business owner and colleague once said to me. Not so long ago, I would have said the same thing. But whether it makes you sick or not, marketing is now a necessity in business, big or small. Very few of us can rely on word of mouth or individual referrals to survive or particularly to grow our business. It is not enough anymore just to have great products that you sell, you need to think what about I call the wholistic customer experience (WCE).

Retail therapy required

Recently I went into a well-known branded shoe store to buy runners for my son. Teenagers seem to have very particular (and expensive) tastes in runners! He knew exactly what shoe he wanted so it was just a matter of finding the right size. To help me out, he also knew that there was a discount of $30 on offer, as he had researched it online. The first Sales Assistant (SA) was helpful and we found the right size after a bit of effort. The store was quite busy and other customers were often interrupting. Once the right shoes were found he handed me off to another SA to do the POS transaction at the counter. They scanned the shoe box and the full price was asked for. When my son mumbled that there was a discount, (and had to show the evidence on his phone), the SA said:

“That is only if you sign up as a member”. OK, let’s do that then.

After a few clumsy and unsuccessful attempts at taking down my details into the system, the frustrated SA said that they don’t seem to have access to create a member and they will have to get the manager. Could we please stand to the side? (We had already been pushed aside to make way for other purchasing customers).

After quite some time, the SA had not returned. So, we politely left the store without purchasing anything. The WCE had gone from a 6/10 to a zero.

What are two of the marketing lessons in this?

Handoffs are deadly

Regardless of your business, your customers do not care how you are internally structured. When you order a meal at a restaurant, you don’t have to deal with individual suppliers and cooks that make up your lunch, you order with a waiter and the waiter brings food to the table. In our example, when the first SA handed us off to another SA to do the menial task of collecting money from us, the WCE went down immediately.

Limit the number of handoffs you are doing in your business. When dealing with a customer, refrain from saying things like “that is with the sales department” or “I’ll have to put you on to a supervisor”. Empower customer facing staff of all levels of responsibility, to see the customer issue through to completion. Have systems in place that enable you to stay with the customer, even if a number of other people are involved. Telstra, and other very large organisations, have learned that lesson hard. Now every effort is put into customers having a single-point-of-contact when they call with a request.

There’s a fraction too much friction

Marketers use the word “frictionless” a lot. Basically, you need to make it super easy or seamless for your customers to do business with you. In our simple shoe example, there was far too much friction. The marketing “system” that offered the discount on line had not flowed down to the retail store correctly. The loyalty or membership system was not quick and easy to operate and staff had insufficient training and access. In another twist, even though I didn’t purchase anything, I immediately started getting unwanted follow up emails from the store, so the membership application must have worked somehow…

Look at your own customer experiences from the top of the funnel through to purchase and analyse where the touchpoints and possible friction points are. This is not as easy as it may seem. The best approach is to ask your customers via a survey or other method a simple question – “How easy is it to do business with us?”. (Note that this is different to a Net Promoter Score (NPS) initiative which is about customer recommendations). Companies such as Amazon have spent countless millions on making the online checkout process as frictionless as possible. Every second where a customer has to think about the purchasing process is a second where they may change their mind.

We don’t have the deep pockets of Amazon, but all businesses can start mini-projects of eliminating handoffs and in reducing friction points in their wholistic customer experience process. A new financial year coming around the corner?

We did buy my boy’s shoes somewhere else, by the way, in case you were worried.