Customer Service / Online Marketing – One Rock at a Time

How to move mountains – eCommerce & eMarketing strategy for success!

20 years and a couple of lifetimes ago, I arrived in Cancun, Mexico with a couple of bags, boyish excitement and a bundle of energy.

I was a GO, Gentile Organizateur a hotel worker in Club Med, part teacher, part drinking buddy, part host, part companion. I had no clue.

I was recruited in New York, an English rebel, just off a summer working in Canada and 2 years before that going ‘walk-a-bout’ in Australia. The Club Med stint was recommended by a coworker in West Australia who said I would “love it.” So here I was.

I was far from the traditional British ‘stiff upper lip’ so approached the group of young, tanned and good-looking individuals and announced myself – “Grant, new sailing guy.”

They all started talking, chatting, pumping hands, laughing. There was only one word to describe it. “Family

It was an amazing first day introduction, there was no ‘status dance’, no pretence, no anything but warmth, free speaking, respect and a common bond of employment.

20 years later, I still marvel at the enveloping culture of the Club Med GO team at that time. And the amazing thing is that it wasn’t unique to that venue. In the following 4 1/2 years I spent as a GO, every team, in every Village, in countries around the world had the same feeling, a culture of  like-minded individuals with a common goal – giving the customers (GMs) the vacation of their lifetime.

Are you having this much fun at work?

And this, I’ve found, is the common thread of strong corporate cultures, a clear, understandable and achievable goal that employees can rally around and revel in the shared success.

Forget mission statements and empty positioning that can only make sense to the Chief Marketing Officer, a company’s culture needs to be simple enough to be measured against, whilst easy to communicate both inside and outside the organization.

When I started my own company in 2001, I wanted to provide a “Club Med” style experience to my clients. And this wasn’t about pareos and cocktails, this was more about an attitude of ‘yes’. Leveraging the power of “I can” as opposed to a culture of negativity, I managed to grow from one client, to over 140, including a fortune 500 list of industry leaders. I would never say I was the best at what I did, but my staff and I were enthusiastic, listened and got the job done. Our mantra was ‘size doesn’t matter’ – a dig at ourselves, a small company consulting with some industry giants, and also pushing the fact that any project can be successful with the right resources and execution. It was Club Med experience that taught me that… In the Club we really did do the impossible, and made it look effortless.

Simplicity isn't always effective :-)

I tried exactly this at my last company, a large timeshare organization whose employees were wallowing in years of uncertainty, and management that had lost the desire to communicate honestly. I was VP of Brand Communications and was tasked (amongst other things) with creating an internal culture that would take this company to the next level of service and profitability.  I created a ‘battle cry’ for the employees, “Delivering brilliant moments” that got down to the core of what we should be doing for our guests and played off the corporate branding. Employees loved it, top management thought it too simplistic, over-analyzed it and ended up publishing a 3-sentence mission statement that was launched with much pomp and ceremony, and died on everyone’s lips within a week. It  lacked an important component of any successful corporate culture. Fun.

Fast forward to today, I’m fortunate to work at a progressive online agency that has the flexibility of size, stability of a great client portfolio, and resources of venture capital. We’re creating an environment and culture that empowers individuality whilst building team spirit. It’s unique, it’s in it’s infancy, it’s almost working.

We’re looking at industry leaders like Zappos, folks that have proven service is a differentiator, employee fun a retention tool, and the power of a corporate ‘family’ a tool in moving everyone in the same direction, onward to company success.

Zappos’ innovative employee induction process, cool work environment and willingness to share their secrets, makes them a company worth emulating.

At my current employ there’s still lots of work done to build a Zappos-like culture, we’re not thinking it’s a trivial task but, most importantly, we are having fun building it.

Before I’m accused of being naive in thinking beach bums can correlate to a Wall Street business environment, try substituting the traditional definition of ‘fun’ for something even the Brooks Bros. crowd can appreciate. “Good attitude”.

Try it!  Even the guys in the suits will be amazed how far a little Club Med Culture can move an organization forward.

I tend to write a lot about customer service because the web is inherently a faceless communications tool where customer service is often lacking, but can be enhanced through usability, simplicity and truly knowing your visitors.

Offline examples of good / bad service offer great learning opportunities. One such lesson occurred Christmas evening when my family went out for a dinner.

As you can imagine the choice is somewhat limited on Christmas and were expecting a little wait. We ended up at Jerry’s Deli in Encino, a popular and ‘famous’ (in their own words) traditional New York deli experience, with a bit of Encino attitude thrown into the mix.

Surprise (not) it was crowded. Actual surprise, there were about 50 people waiting for tables, the list about 20 party long “30-40 minute wait”

A few real surprises:

  1. Every time the door opened, the ice cold wind blew in, arousing curses and complaints from the Encino crowd (not known for their patience). The hostess was shivering, dressed as she was. Not a great environment for a waiting area as we waited for the hostess to come down with pneumonia!

  2. I walked into the restaurant area to find > 15 tables / booths open. Absolutely empty. When I asked the manager “What’s up?” she said that they didn’t want to “overwhelm” the kitchen. Yep. Much better to underwhelm the waiting customers.

  3. I asked the manager if she could serve some hot chocolate to the crowd of cold, patient and ‘growing rapidly restless’ patrons. “That’s a great idea. We don’t do it. But it’s a great idea.” No. A great idea is one you implement and find out it’s even better than you expect it would be, to actually demonstrate true unexpected customer service! Surprise We care!

It didn’t get much better, as by the time we reached our table (50 mins after we arrived) the service was slow, the food cold (what was available as they were ‘out’ of lots of stuff) and the apologies of the waitress were lame as they provided little in the way of empathy, only excuses.

It doesn’t take much to exceed expectations. Seriously.

A cup of hot chocolate, a bit of holiday cheer, and hot food isn’t too much to ask, is it?

As it turns out, I think Jerry’s has finally lost us as customers, we’ll go to Fromin’s down the road, who at least welcomed us will a smile and excellent service this morning.

Cost of a mug of hot chocolate (bulk – one serving, including dishwasher) = 25c

Lifetime value of my patronage – $40×12 times / year x 10 years = $4,800

Online it doesn’t take much to meet or exceed expectations either. Offering something as a surprise or something unexpected (free upgrade on shipping? smoother checkout?) can often tip the balance, changing an online visit into an online experience.

Don’t think of the sale as a one time event, think of the customer experience as a lifetime relationship, one in which all parties involved profit.

Complimentary hot chocolate when you’re cold and waiting? That’s just one way to start a relationship.