Monday, November 29, 2010

Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays and Lessons from 34th Street

I'm going to confess that I love a sappy holiday movie from the 40s and 50s.  So imagine my joy when I stumbled upon "Miracle on 34th Street" with Maureen O'Hara and the young Natalie Wood.  For those of you not familiar with it, it's about how the "real" Santa Claus plays the role of the Macy's Santa Claus one Christmas season... and, as the saying goes, hilarity ensues!

There I was sitting happily and laughing along with Kris Kringle when I was presented with this gem of a marketing lesson which we have yet to learn.  Read on!

"MACY: The effect this will have on the public is...  Come in, Mrs. Walker.

- Hello, Mrs. Walker.

- Sit over here.

MACY: I've been telling these gentlemen the new policy you and Mr. Shellhammer initiated.  I can't say that I approve of your not consulting the advertising department first but in the face of this tremendous public response, I can't be angry with you.

DORIS: What's he talking about?

MR. SHELLHAMMER: Tell you later.

MACY: Now, to continue, gentlemen.  I admit this plan sounds idiotic and impossible.  Imagine Macy's Santa Claus sending customers to Gimbels.   Ho ho.  But,  gentlemen, you cannot argue with success.  Look at this.  Telegrams, messages, telephone calls.  The governor's wife, the mayor's wife, over thankful parents expressing undying gratitude to Macy's.

Never in my entire career have I seen such a tremendous and immediate response to a merchandising policy.  And I'm positive, Frank, if we expand our policy, we'll expand our results as well.  Therefore, from now on, not only will our Santa Claus continue in this manner but I want every salesperson in this store to do precisely the same thing.  If we haven't got exactly what the customer wants we'll send him where he can get it.

No high pressuring and forcing a customer to take something he doesn't really want.  We'll be known as the helpful store, the friendly store, the store with a heart, the store that places public service ahead of profits.  And, consequently, we'll make more profits than ever before."

True, this is a Hollywood confection and a very good one at that.  But, the point doesn't stop being a good one.  It is good practice to say that you don't have what your customer wants and refer him/her to someone who does because that customer will remember your honesty.  It is good practice to put service ahead of profits because the profits will always follow from performing the service.

I'm also saying that this is more than a "Karma is a boomerang" type of point.  It's actually a point about efficiency as well.  Why force a square peg into the round hole only to have to go back later and undo what's been done?  Consider the amount of rework and/or customer service hand holding or damage control you've avoided on the back end by simply saying "I'm sorry but I don't think I can help you."  The topline results mean nothing if your bottom line isn't there to back it up.

The other thing is that behaving in ways for the greater good is not a new concept, particularly in the social media space.  Why do we keep falling for the hoopla and artificial shopping competition of Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays?  Sure, there are retailers offering insanely great prices out there.  But you're not helping customers with savvy shopping habits if they don't buy what they "need" and instead buy what's flashy.

Eventually, the customer will realize that he/she may have spent a bit too much and while taking some responsibility, will feel a little hoodwinked by it all, will feel like there was price coercion or some other invisible prod at work...  not something you'd want to be remembered for during the yuletide season!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

p.s.  I got the screenplay transcript from here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's In a Name? Customers versus Passengers

It's been a while since we've last chatted.  678 Partners has been having oodles of meetings punctuated by a family visit to LA which I'll tell you more about very shortly...  And then there was Thanksgiving!

On my way back from LA, I noticed something unusual.  Typically, wherever you are in the travel process, you're a "passenger" if you're the one traveling.  Whether you're checking in, going through security or what have you, that's what you're called.

It's not something I've thought that much about until that early morning flight home.  One of our flight attendants referred to us as customers while everyone else on the flight (including the pilots) called us passengers.  I thought I misheard her a few times thanks to a bum ear and even chalked it up to little sleep (it was a 6am flight) until it happened enough for me to be convinced she was calling us customers and not passengers.

Truly, I found it odd.  Some part of me really wanted to be called a passenger and not customer because that's how I've always heard people refer to me when traveling.  I can't begin to tell you why I found it odd -- maybe resistance to change or other sort of inertia.  I do know that on some level, I thought being a customer meant that I wasn't taken as seriously as a passenger.  But then I slowly came around...  and the following definitions will help demonstrate my point.

Definitions (as per

Passenger: a person who is traveling in an automobile, bus, train, airplane, or other conveyance, esp. one who is not the driver, pilot, or the like.

Customer: a person who purchases goods or services from another; buyer; patron.

Now, I did say that I initially thought that being a customer meant I was taken less seriously as passenger until I thought about it a little more.  And I looked it up.  And I changed my mind.  I want to be a customer.

Why: the word customer implies some sort of relationship or desired relationship between the buyer and the seller.  The word passenger implies something a little colder...  almost as if there's a tremendous psychological distance between the traveler and the entity making the travel possible.

Why does it matter what I'm called as long as I'm safely hurled in that metal capsule to my destination (which is what we're now reminded is the primary purpose of flight attendants)?  It matters if this airline wants to build an in airport, in flight relationship with me that matches the love letter style emails and whatnot they send to me when I'm not traveling.  By calling me a customer in flight, there's an acknowledgement that my business matters to them and that I'm not necessarily a body filling the seat.

BUT.  If you've travelled at all in the last few years, you know that this is a (somewhat) unfulfilled fantasy and (somewhat) a tall order.  And, I've told you how it can be a tall order based on personal experience.  And, you've heard about Kevin Smith's Southwest adventure and the guitar breaking mishap on United.

So, as much as the word passenger, to me, represents enormous psychological distance between the traveler and the entity making the travel possible, it turns out that it's actually a more accurate term.  It turns out that while it was nice to be called a customer for those few fleeting moments, it's a tremendous letdown because the experience doesn't live up to the promise of the word.  And, if you remember this post, the Buick salesman truly understood "customer" experience.  To equate one flight attendant's words with the salesman's actions would be utterly wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I'm going to hold out hope that I get the treatment worthy of "customer" -- a girl has to pin her hopes on something.  It's just that false words ring even more hollow as in travel service becomes worse and worse.

I know some may say to-may-to or to-mah-to when it comes to this semantic comparison of customer and passenger.  Maybe I have read a little bit too much into how words are used.  But maybe I haven't.

What your spin?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Devil, Details and Your Domino's Pizza

When we last spoke, I talked about Mitch Joel's "little big things" post and I said that while the whole is more than the sum of its parts, the net effect of how the whole "feels" is important, too.  And it's because of the attention to the little parts that makes the "whole" what it is.  There was this lovely quote from Marco Arment that was in this post:

"...I learned the value of giving people little delights... You can do the same thing with any business...  I try to find new and tiny ways to delight my customers. They may not notice, but it helps drive goodwill and makes your product remarkable."

I then spent the rest of the post talking about Butterball and its annual Turkey Talk-Line and said that we're not buying a product so much as we're buying confidence, joy, excitement and any other emotion because that product or service alleviates a (hunger) pain or solves a problem.  The delights from the Talk-Line distinguish the Butterball brand from another and every time we want to make turkey anything, we'll remember that brand experience when we're in the poultry aisle at the market.

All of this brings me to Ramon DeLeon who is the Domino's Pizza Guy To Know not only in Chicago but internationally as well.  You've all either heard of Ramon, seen him in person or heard him speak on a webinar.  You've heard his Tweetable Facts, too.  Here are some refreshers:
  • I cannot make money selling pizzas for One Dollar, but I can make money off the conversation it generates.
  • My Goal is to get Customers addicted to the Domino’s Pizza Experience!
  • My Goal is to promote my customers.
As you know, Ramon has multiple anecdotes where he has surprised and delighted many a customer which are #RamonWOW moments.  A recent one involved sending pizza to a hungry pregnant lady within an hour of her tweeting that she was hungry.  As you know, I'm all about surprise and delight moments and it's a thrill to see them unfold when they're done well.  And that one was done spectacularly well!

What Ramon and his dedicated employees are doing has absolutely nothing to do with pizza.  It's about the relationship that they build with customers every time an order is placed.  It doesn't matter if it's the first or fiftieth, each order is yet another opportunity to make that customer feel special, appreciated and "smart" for ordering a pizza from them as opposed to competitors.  Even when an order isn't fulfilled, swift action is taken to restore confidence and repair the potential damage to the relationship.  

And why all this effort?  It's because he understands that but for these customers, he would not exist.  Every opportunity can either have huge upside or downside unless careful attention is paid to every detail of the transaction.  One other look at the Tweetable Facts reinforces this.  Every #RamonWOW moment that gets shared takes a sometimes simple loss leader strategy and transforms it into a windfall that travels in concentric circles.

Let's hear it from the man himself.  Here's Amir with Ramon after we heard him speak the other day:

If you think about it, Ramon's creativity in delivering unexpected delights where possible to bring a smile to someone's face is a series of "little big things" that have made him a success not unlike Butterball's Talk-Line.  We can all do right by our customers if we have the desire.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Devil, Details and Your Thanksgiving Bird

We've all heard the expression "The Devil is in the details!" when it comes to planning and whatnot.  There are so many important elements that go into a project, a product, a service, an event, etc., but some of them are infinitesimal to the eyes.  But that doesn't mean they are not felt or appreciated.

I came upon this lovely gem from Mitch Joel about the little big things.  Essentially, it is true that the whole is more than the sum of its parts but the net effect of how the whole "feels" because of the little parts makes paying attention to the little parts all that more important. Here's a quote by Marco Arment from within the post:

"...I learned the value of giving people little delights... Those small details and experiences are the reason why people like luxury cars. They are full of those little delights. You can do the same thing with any business. With a Web and iPhone app, I try to find new and tiny ways to delight my customers. They may not notice, but it helps drive goodwill and makes your product remarkable."

Which brings me to the subject of turkeys.  Not turkeys as in bad ideas or bad execution of ideas.  I mean the prosaic Thanksgiving bird.  More specifically, I'd like to talk about Butterball and its Butterball Turkey Talk-Line.  I'd always planned to talk about Butterball (thanks to this article) and had I not had my O'Hare adventure, I would have written this earlier.  

Every year, the Turkey Talk-Line handles about 100K calls about the bird itself, great side dishes and anything even barely tangentially related to the holiday meal.  Butterball has turkey experts that have been working the lines for years...  So many that they earn wishbone fashioned jewelry to mark milestones.  They also answer about 5K emails and there are about 1MM visitors to their site each year.

Those are small potatoes (ha ha) compared to Epicurious or Food Network sites but there's something charming and homespun about the Butterball Talk-Line beyond the fact that you can call them regardless of the brand of turkey you've purchased.  Actually, Butterball celebrates smallness and personal approach and thinks it speaks well for the brand.  Here's are some nice excerpts from the article:

"Butterball Turkey executives believe the company has a strong niche and claim they are undaunted by the competition. In addition to selling turkey, they say, Butterball's core strength is providing live advice from calm experts about cooking, thawing or what side dishes to make."

"The fact that you can call a hot line and talk to an expert who knows how to make the perfect bird is so valuable to the consumer who's feeling so stressed,'' said Marie Chen, a senior consultant at EffectiveBrands, a global branding company. "People really feel like they have a lot riding on this meal," said Chen. "They're preparing it for their families, their in-laws, the people who matter the most. And they want it to be perfect."

So what does your Thanksgiving bird and a cooking hotline have to do with Mitch Joel and little big things?  Little big things are really what make up a brand's halo effect.  As I mentioned in my last post, we don't only buy a product or service but we also buy confidence and whatever other emotion we experience because the product or service alleviates a (hunger) pain or solves a problem.

Many of us may never call the Talk-Line but just having the knowledge that it's there "just in case" as you're preparing a big meal for the first or fifth time is comforting...  and something difficult to assign a price.  Consequently, the halo effect is the representation of the value of comfort, confidence, security and relief.

Very often, we're made to feel like we have to go completely over the top to win the hearts and minds of customers.  But, like that quote from Mitch Joel's post, the little delights are what drive goodwill and distinguishes one company from another.  If anyone were to receive help from the Butterball Talk-Line, that is one replayed memory with every visit to the poultry section at the local market with likely influence on the brand purchased.

Not bad for a little big thing, right?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

International Terminals, Sales and Service

Have you ever met a friend or loved one after they exited Immigration and Customs at an airport?  The palpable anticipation and noise of the eagerly waiting loved ones is one of the most beautiful things to watch.  Little kids are often dressed in their best clothes and holding on to the flower or the balloon they are to present to whomever emerges from the door.  

The payoff comes when they finally see the friend/cousin/sibling/parent/spouse and there is this huge swell of emotion.  Some people laugh with joy while others show their happiness through tears.  I've had the chance to see this play out over and over through the years thanks to family visiting from abroad.  I never get tired of it.

I was watching a similar scene unfold yesterday as I was waiting for my parents.  While I was enjoying the reunions, I saw something dramatically different unfolding.  For those connecting through O'Hare, there was some serious and immediate confusion which as you know is not difficult in my hometown airport.  Immediately upon exiting Immigrations and Customs are three large arrows that are pasted to the ground that direct people to use the airport train to go to the domestic airline terminals.  They look something like this (my ugly facsimile):

And just beyond, are signs immediately pointing to a escalator appearing to go nowhere and a sign outlining which airline is in which terminal.  There was also a female security guard shouting out "Take the escalator" over and over as people were exiting.

This is what I saw: people groggy from jetlag, scarred by Immigration and Customs, confused by the lady guard yelling the same thing over and over, with somewhat of a language barrier in some cases, who have never been to O'Hare and not familiar with domestic airlines.  The result: a sort of vertigo and people looking all around and up above to get bearings and information.  They never looked down.  If they did, they'd see a collage of baggage and luggage carts and never the arrows.

All of this reminded me of a post that Bruce Temkin wrote back in August about the new elevators in New York's Marriott Marquis.  I encourage you to read the post and travel back here.  If you've not the time, his overall point was that one key design element can go a long way.

So why talk about the airport when this is a business blog?  Good question.  I think the people at O'Hare meant well when they devised the stick the colored arrows on the floor solution.  I really do.  My main indictment here is they designed for themselves and not for the groggy and confused passenger.  They made the groggy and confused passenger even more confused.  That's a big no no.

It's a big no no in business, too.  We should never make people confused by our business processes.  We should never make them feel like they made a mistake (even if they had) with the reward being an alarming error message and instructions to call a random 800# with an obscure code to report to the phone rep.  And if you think I threw that out there randomly, I didn't.  That was my customer experience with a loyalty program recently.  No lie.

As business owners and executives, we are supposed to make things easy and seamless for the customer and not for ourselves.  Even in the worst and most stressful, complex moments, the #1 feeling the customer should have is confidence as they are doing business with us.  It's the emotion people have (in addition to the actual product/service) that make people want to come back to us.  They are buying confidence and it always has an equal or greater price than the product/service itself.

And this point of emotion is critical.  When anyone buys anything, it's to address a particular pain point that he/she has.  Sometimes it's not a grave pain point but sometimes it is.  The way we interact with prospects and customers should be predicated on the underlying diagnosed pain and not what we choose to foist upon them.

So, let's go back to the arrow example.  Have you had an experience where you've made to feel like you've a bit of customer vertigo?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef